Meet the Fellows: 2018 Newcombe Fellow Emily Wright

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship fosters the original and significant study of ethical or religious values in all fields of the humanities and social sciences. The 2018 class, announced by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, includes Emily Wright, a doctoral candidate in history at Tulane University. Emily’s dissertation, titled The Female Apostles of the South: Protestant Women’s Religious Activism in the Antebellum Gulf South, examines the public religious lives of free and enslaved Protestant women in the antebellum Gulf South.

Emily recalls an image from her childhood that has shaped her work:

My grandparents had a print of Norman Rockwell’s Sunday Morning hanging on their living room wall. Consciously or unconsciously, I think they identified with the painted family, whose Sunday morning ritual mirrored their own. The father enjoys his Sabbath from his armchair, smoking and reading the newspaper in his bathrobe and loafers. The mother marches off to church with her three children, all dressed in their Sunday best.

Looking back, I realize that I carried this picture of idealized Christian motherhood with me into my work in women’s religious history. But there I found women living rich public religious lives, women who built the modern Protestant denominations we know today. Even in the antebellum South, where this motherhood ideal was especially strong, white women and—in some cases—even free and enslaved women of color served as church fundraisers, teachers, evangelizers, musicians, and benevolent society organizers. These women did so much more than take their children to church.

I learned recently that, like the women I study, my grandmother was also an active churchwoman, pledging her time, talent, and treasure to her church, prioritizing this work alongside her social and political activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, my grandparents’ Sunday Morning hangs in my house as a reminder of them, and as inspiration: there is still so much more to uncover about that mother in her Sunday best.

For more information about the 2018 Newcombe Fellows and a list of their dissertation titles, click here.



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