Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Mark Granquist

Second Advisor

Dr. Mary Jane Haemig

Third Advisor

Dr. Walter Sundberg


The turn of the twentieth century was a time of great civic engagement in the United States. Women, in particular, were engaged in a variety of benevolent organizations. Much of the previous historical investigation on women’s reform activity has focused on the actions of white, affluent, mainline Protestant women in older and larger cities. Because of this focus on affluent Protestant women, historians have largely ignored other groups of women who were also engaged in reform efforts all over the country.

This dissertation examines four groups of religiously engaged women in Minnesota between the years 1880 and 1920 (immigrants, Roman Catholics, Jews, and African Americans) who have tended to be marginalized and left out of the historical record, especially in Minnesota.

Using a combination of primary and secondary sources, it will be argued that these women were indeed involved in a variety of benevolent organizations and were religiously inspired. Religious engagement gave credence to their activities and a level of respectability. There was a general progression of organization from small church-related charities to larger and more influential organizations. In many cases, this religious engagement led to further public involvement as women began to participate in politics, particularly in the areas of temperance and suffrage.