Liz Muir: Why did I write A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership (2019)?

Why did I write A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership (2019) by Liz Muir

In WOMANWORD, A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter, Miriam Therese Winter, one of the Medical Mission Sisters, wrote, “Who will retrieve our stories from the void of the unremembered? Who will believe we were who we are and did all the things we do?” Marilyn Färdig Whiteley and I used that psalm at the beginning of our earlier book, Changing Roles of Women within the Christian Church in Canada (1995). Unfortunately, it is as applicable today as it was then. 

Recently, I was honoured to be part of a panel of church historians celebrating International Women’s Day, and asked to talk about a woman in the history of the church whom we admired. The exercise revealed the lack of knowledge among theological students and even some of their mentors about the roles women held in the history of Christianity. So I felt this book had to be written –  to recover the feisty and powerful women who gave so much to the life and work of Christianity: house church leaders, prophets, presbyters, even bishops in the early days. For example, did you know that all the evidence points to a major competition between Mary Magdalene and St. Peter? Mary was called the Apostle to the Apostles, the most significant one of them all. Did you know that there were ordained female deacons and deaconesses up to the eleventh century? The evidence is there. Did you know that women co-founded and founded churches, denominations, and several orders, such as the Ursulines, the Daughters of Charity, the Salvation Army, several Pentecostal churches, Christian Science and the Quakers? Did you know that women have been ordained to all ecclesiastical positions in churches around the world including archbishops?

I look at all these subjects and more (in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions) in the book, which is formatted so that it can be used as a text for church history or women’s studies courses. I hope it will help give some permanence to the women “who did all the things we do.”


A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership

“Tracing two thousand years of female leadership, influence, and participation, Elizabeth Gillan Muir examines the various positions women have filled in the church. From the earliest female apostle, and the little known stories of the two Marys – the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene – to the enlightened duties espoused by the nun, the abbess, and the anchorite, and the persecutions of female “witches,” Muir uncovers the rich and often tumultuous relationship between women and Christianity.

Offering broad coverage of both the Catholic and Protestant traditions and extending geographically well beyond North America, A Women’s History of the Christian Church presents a chronological account of how women developed new sects and new churches, such as the Quakers and Christian Science. The book includes a timeline of women in Christian history, over 25 black-and-white illustrations, a glossary, and a list of primary and secondary sources to complement the content in each chapter.”

Liz Muir (Dr Elizabeth Gillan Muir) taught at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto and was on the faculty of St Paul’s College, University of Waterloo. She holds a doctorate from McGill University. Her first major work was Petticoats in the Pulpit, the story of early nineteenth-century Methodist women preachers in Upper Canada.

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