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The Laywoman ProjectRemaking Catholic Womanhood in the Vatican II Era$
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Mary J. Henold

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469654492

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469654492.001.0001

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Catholic (Non)Feminism

Catholic (Non)Feminism

(p.70) 2 Catholic (Non)Feminism
The Laywoman Project

Mary J. Henold

University of North Carolina Press

In this chapter, the history of the National Council of Catholic Women in the 1960s and 1970s – the years during and following Vatican II – is reassessed. The NCCW has been commonly perceived as a powerful anti-feminist organization for Catholic laywomen that was controlled by the Catholic hierarchy, but its archives reveal a sustained effort to engage with feminist ideas after the Second Vatican Council. Although most of the NCCW’s leadership did not self-identify as feminist, the group espoused many feminist beliefs, particularly about women’s leadership, opportunity, challenging ideas about women’s vocation, and women’s right to participate fully in the life of the Catholic church. The NCCW, under the leadership of Margaret Mealey, developed new organizational structures, educational programs, and publications to educate their membership about changing gender roles and the need to press the church for greater inclusion. Comparison to the international organization the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), reveals the limitations of their feminism, however. Whereas WUCWO was willing to openly embrace feminism and feminist activism, NCCW was divided and preferred not to self-identify as feminist.

Keywords:   Margaret Mealey, National Council of Catholic Women, World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, Catholic laywomen, Feminism, Vatican II, 1960s, 1970s, Lillian O’Connor

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