Project Director

Robison, Kira

Department Examiner

White, Michelle; Doyle, Lindsay Irvin


Dept. of History


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


From the earliest days of the Christian church women eagerly sought to pursue a life of devotion to Jesus Christ. This led to the foundation of women’s monastic communities, also known as convents. The path to a life in holy orders within the male dominated church was fraught with challenges to women’s authority to be the authors of their own religious experiences. Women were defined by early church fathers including Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome as lesser human beings than their male counterparts, inheritors of the sin of Eve and led by their inherent sexual deviance and demonic susceptibility. It is within this misogynistic worldview that women struggled to live an authentic religious life. This paper covers a broad sweep of women’s experiences with the masculine church from the sixth to the sixteenth century. Beginning with an example of one of the earliest monastic communities for women, the monastery of St. John in Arles, France, which was founded in the sixth century, the reader will gain insight into the workings of a community of women living in perpetual enclosure. The following centuries introduce three exceptional abbesses, leaders of women’s communities and champions of women’s agency: Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, and Teresa of Avila. These women sought not only to live as followers of Christ and shepherds of their communities of women but also to support other women in the church and to aid in the reform and betterment of the church. The vagaries of women’s lives in the church, the challenges placed before them by men, and their efforts to stay true to their desires to live their lives in imitation of Christ are the focus of this thesis.


I would like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Kira Robison for her inspiration and support in this thesis process. I would also like to thank Dr. Michelle White and Ms. Lindsay Irvin Doyle who graciously offered their time and encouragement.


B. A.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts.




Monasticism and religious orders for women -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500


Women's monasticism; Religious agency; Nuns



Document Type



67 leaves




Under copyright.


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