Chapter 8: A Larger Syntax

When matriarch Abby’s son Christopher is ordained in a suburb of Boston and meets Mary Jackson May (1856-1945) in the early 1880s, the stage is set for a spirited female to radicalize a new Eliot line. Mary takes charge as the dominant spouse after she and Christopher marry, and her influence changes the locus of Christopher’s ministry. They leave their parish of comfortable, white suburbanites for a mission church in Boston’s squalid West End, where social work and ministry are inseparable. Mary’s son and two daughters are meanwhile shuttled between the worlds to which they have access, those of the haves and have-nots. While Mary’s son Frederick rebels against the female hegemony, Martha (1891-1978) and Abby (1892-1992) have cut their teeth on the issues of class and gender equality by the time they enroll at Radcliffe around 1910.