This Strange Society of Women: Reading the Letters and Lives of the Wom

Sally L. Kitch, Author Ohio State University Press $55.95 (391p) ISBN 978-0-8142-0579-2
From 1879 to 1898, the Woman's Commonwealth, a utopian community based on celibacy, economic independence and Christian religious conviction, flourished in Belton, Tex., where members ran boardinghouses and hotels; it then settled in Washington, D.C., from 1898 to 1912. In this scholarly study of interest primarily to historians, Kitch, director of women's studies at Ohio State, explores the story of the ``sanctificationists,'' as the women were known, through analysis of the 2400 pages of their personal letters--group membership peaked at 50 in 1880 and began to decline in the early 1900s, due to defections by the daughters of the original members. Founded by Martha McWhirter in about 1866 after a vision convinced her that celibacy was sanctified by God, the society challenged patriarchal structures. Due to its economic success and subsequent championing of women's suffrage, Kitch argues, the Commonwealth qualifies as a feminist organization. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 11/01/1992
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