Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America

January 15, 2010 – April 25, 2010
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Washington, DC
International Gallery, Sublevel 3

Rare artifacts and photographs from more than 400 communities are on view to explore the role of Catholic sisters in American life. From the time they first arrived in America nearly 300 years ago, sisters built schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, and many other enduring social institutions. As nurses, teachers, and social workers, they entered professional ranks decades earlier than most other women. They shared common experiences of immigration and migration and endured the same national crises as other Americans. Despite being considered "weak women" by some, these sisters have made a lasting contribution to American life.

Through rare artifacts, compelling photographs and videos, and vivid first-person narratives, the exhibition explores the contributions Catholic sisters made—and continue to make—in shaping the nation’s social and cultural landscape.

  • A letter from President Thomas Jefferson to Marie Thérèse Farjon of St. Xavier, written in 1804, assuring her that her community would still be able to govern itself following the Louisiana Purchase.
  • A nurse’s bag used by Sister Anthony O’Connell, Sisters of Charity, who pressured Army doctors to allow sisters to tend to soldiers on the front lines during the Civil War. Her lobbying succeeded, earning her the title “Angel of the Battlefield.”
  • A gavel and sound block belonging to Carolyn Farrell, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who became the mayor of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1980—the first woman religious to be elected mayor of an American city.
  • The story of Mother Alfred Moes who, after witnessing the destruction of Rochester, Minn., from a violent tornado in 1883, proposed to William Mayo and his sons that she would build and staff a hospital if they would agree to provide the medical care. This collaboration was a significant milestone in the development of what is now known as Mayo Clinic

Sponsored by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in Association with Cincinnati Museum Center