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Daughters of Light:
Daughters of Light by Rebecca Larson is a startling reassessment of the place of women in American colonial history. Larson's story of 18th-century Quaker women describes women's power in popular reform movements of that era, and explores Quaker women's redefinitions of marriage and motherhood. Colonial Quakers, like their contemporary descendants, believed that "the Holy Spirit had been planted in the hearts of all humans to inwardly teach them." Although Quakers had strict rules regarding women's dress, language, and behavior, Quaker women were never denied their claims of a direct connection to God. (Their Puritan sisters, by contrast, practiced a religion that idealized female submission in both the earthly and spiritual realms.) So when Quaker women believed they were called to preach--in meeting houses, courthouses, and private homes; to other Quakers, to Native Americans, and to ecumenical audiences; in the West Indies, England, Europe, and the American colonies--they were given the freedom to do so. All domestic duties were configured to account for divine demands. (The Spirit leading Quaker women, as one wrote, "was to me like a needle of a compass ... for so it pointed where I ought to go.")
Daughters of Light begins with a deft summary of Quaker history; it moves on to consider the theological justification for women's preaching, the ways in which women discerned their callings and arranged their journeys, and the effects of these journeys on private life, on Quaker communities abroad, and on the larger culture of colonial America. Larson is best, however, at describing the transformations wrought by these journeys on the women's inner lives. "Thy mother is become very courageous in riding thru deep waters and over rocky mountains beyond what I could expect," one woman wrote to another's child, in 1724. "She says fear is taken away from her and that she is born up by a secret hand, which I am very glad of and thankful to the Lord for." --Michael Joseph Gross [via]