Women of the Reformation
The Reformation swept through Europe in the first half of the 16th century. What began as an attempt by theologians to reform the existing Catholic Church, soon spiralled into a movement of huge theological debate, resulting in great cultural change, political division and war. The end result was a divided Christian Church that we now understand to be the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.
When people think about the Reformation, they tend to think about the ‘big names’ of Reformation theology like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Farel, Martin Bucer and Huldrych Zwingli. And what do all of these figures have in common? They’re all men. Historians and Christians alike view the Reformation almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the male Reformers. This is shown most clearly in the Reformation Wall monument in Geneva. Created in the early 20th century, the wall spans over 100 meters depicting the names and figures of the Reformation. Not one woman is represented.
In 2018 I wanted to address this by writing my final year History dissertation on the women of the Reformation. I was assigned a Professor who specialised in this time period as my supervisor. During our first meeting he informed me that, in his informed opinion, this topic could only be a paragraph, not even a chapter of my dissertation because what would I write about? The women of the Reformation were “just wives and mothers”. I left that meeting, applied for a new supervisor and wrote my original dissertation as planned. But as I researched my dissertation it became clear that this Professor was not alone in his belief.
The history curriculum in schools is insufficient in their representation of women’s contribution to past events. This blog aims to address that. While teachers want to include women’s history, they have not had access to the training, modeling, and resources to do it effectively. Women make up fifty percent of the global population, and yet are in a small fraction of events discussed in school. Women’s choices have been harrowing, infamous, and monumental, and yet their stories are so rarely associated with mainstream history. Ask your average high school graduate, or even college graduate, to name 20 significant men in history and the list flows easily. Ask that same person to name 20 women and the names drag, if they come at all. This case in point leaves us with conclusions like, “women did not do as much” or “women’s stories were not recorded.” These assertions justify our own indifference to the history of half the human race, and could not be further from the truth.