This thesis is a consideration of the changing relationship
between women and presbyterianism in Scotland during the
period c1830 - c1930, focusing particularly upon its
effect on the developments which increased the involvement
of women in public, social, ecclesiastical and political
realms. It claims that women were historical agents who
acted critically and creatively in response to their
circumstances, and so were active participants in the
processes of change.
The values and beliefs expressed by Scottish women were not
biologically essential or uniform, but shaped by their
historical location. They were differentiated by a range
of factors -including class, race, gender, character and
geographical location - which belied the prevalent
archetypal understanding of 'True Womanhood'.
The period witnessed significant developments in the
options available, especially to certain groups of women in
church and society. Many women welcomed the potent concept
of mission to justify and define their moral agency in
religious work, philanthropy, education, and campaigns for
social and political progress.
The topic is introduced in chapter one with a brief
consideration of its treatment (and neglect) in Scottish
historiography, highlighting the significance of a
presbyterian ethos in shaping the social and cultural
landscape. I discuss sources, methodology, and limitations
of the study. I contextualise the narrative by outlining
the evolution of patriarchy as an organising principle in
post-Reformation society, and of the 'separate spheres'
doctrine which dominated discourse about women throughout
Chapter two looks at the development of women's work within
the presbyterian denominations, and how that was related to
the general industrial and professional employment of
female labour in Scotland. Chapter three explores the
involvement of women in the foreign missions of the church.
Chapter four examines the official position of women within
the presbyterian polity of the main denominations, and the
options available to those who sought to challenge and
change female exclusion from status and responsibility.
Chapter five discusses the participation of women in four
major campaigns to transform aspects of their society:
anti-slavery] temperance; the struggle for access to higher
education; the women's suffrage campaign. It focuses
particularly on the ways in which people, policies and
practices were influenced by presbyterianism, and vice
versa and analyses, in the Scottish context, the claim that
Protestantism was an almost essential precondition for the
development of feminism in the western world. Chapter six
is an attempt, based on the research, and on insights from
contemporary feminist theology, to assess whether
presbyterianism in Scotland during the period could be
characterised as a source of liberation or oppression for
women. Appendix I is a comparative case study of two local
branches of the Church of Scotland Woman's Guild.