As are the roots of earth and base of all;
Man is for the field and woman for the hearth:
Man for the sword and for the needle her:
Man with the head and woman with the heart:
Man to command and woman to obey; All else confusion.”
This poem by Alfred Tennyson is what Sarah C. Williams uses to open her chapter in Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940. The poem is of extreme relevance to Olive’s life because it describes a very gender essentialist view of the roles of both genders and how each gender acts. As somebody from an unenlightened era where gender equality was not a prominent issue, Olive’s cultural beliefs were very much reflective of this conservative approach to gender. Olive accepts her fate as a twentieth century woman throughout her entire life and her only escape from a gender abiding reality is Methodism.
Throughout her autobiography, Olive speaks of her religion by explaining the intricate details of it: ‘Methodist chapels are run on different lines from Baptists. We have Circuits.’ (2) As always, an observational approach is given towards her religion even though it seemingly plays such a huge role in her life. In another chapter of the aforementioned book, Julie Melnyk explains womans’ contribution to religion in former centures as follows: ‘Any woman attempting to contribute so overtly would be met with strong opposition.’ (32) Perhaps this is why Olive never contributed to the faith like her family members other than following the doctrine. She says, ‘My father’s cousin went to Africa as a missionary, and his photograph still hangs in the Sunday School.’ (2) While discussing her families involvement in religion, and also ‘…my brother was accepted as one of the aforesaid local preachers, and cycled many miles on Sunday to little outlandish villages, bringing the Gospel message…’ (2) What these two statements have in common is that they are both about male contribution to religion. In Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940, Julie Melnyk writes:
Until at least the last decade of the nineteenth century, theology was gendered masculine, and, with few exceptions, women were denied access to the major theological genres: the sermon and the academic treatise. For most feminist historians, women’s exclusion from theological discourse provided yet another example of the silencing of women’s voices by a powerful patriarchal institution.’
With this quote we can see that during Olive’s life in the early 20th century, the clergy was only just coming around to having female members contribute to theology. In the autobiography, Olive is perpetually silenced from having an opinion due to institutionalised sexism and despite being extremely devoted to Methodism she never thinks to make a career out of it or involve herself in the church outside of worship. It is clear however that Olive takes the church very seriously from her act of moving back to England almost entirely because of the lack of Methodism in Canada. If Olive was not born in such times of inequality then perhaps her beliefs would have led her to purse a position in the clergy other than a nun. Olive got married and had children though so she never had any intention of becoming a nun either.
Another aspect of the times shaping Olive’s cultural beliefs was her inexperience with people from other races. While on board to Canada she says, ‘Most of the porters were coloured and I felt like jumping off the train at my first encounter with one… but as I became more accustomed to seeing them I found they were most kind and courteous.’ (16) Living in a working-class village in Northern England meant that she had know exposure to people who were not white. Strangely enough, her shock at seeing people of a different race is one of the only times Olive expresses any form of clear expression of taste or distaste besides from her views on Mormonism. And as one of the only sections that displays opinion, it is also one of the only sections that would be omitted if published from a 2014 perspective.
Canada: A History of Refuge. ()
Gold, Olive Doris, ‘My Life’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987). Vol 2. Number 321.
Melnyk, Julie. ‘Women, writing and the creation of theological cultures.’ Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940. London: Routledge, 2010. N. pag. Print.
Williams, Sarah C. ‘Is There a Bible in the House? Gender, Religion and Family Culture.’ Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940. London: Routledge, 2010. N. pag. Print.