Religious Lessons: Catholic Sisters and the Captured Schools Crisis in New Mexico

Paperback | January 15, 2016

byKathleen Holscher

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Religious Lessons tells the story of Zellers v. Huff, a court case that challenged the employment of nearly 150 Catholic sisters in public schools across New Mexico in 1948. Known nationally as the "Dixon case," after one of the towns involved, it was the most famous in a series of midcenturylawsuits, all targeting what opponents provocatively dubbed "captive schools." Spearheaded by Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the publicity campaign built around Zellers drew on centuries-old rhetoric of Catholic captivity to remind Americans about thethreat of Catholic power in the post-War era, and the danger Catholic sisters dressed in full habits posed to American education.Americans at midcentury were reckoning with the U.S. Supreme Court's new mandate for a "wall of separation" between church and state. At no time since the nation's founding was the Establishment Clause studied so carefully by the nation's judiciary and its people. While Zellers never reached theSupreme Court, its details were familiar to hundreds of thousands of citizens who read about them in magazines and heard them discussed in church on Sunday mornings. For many Americans, Catholic and not, the scenario of sisters in veils teaching children embodied the high stakes of the era'schurch-state conflicts, and became an occasion to assess the implications of separation in their lives.Through close study of the Dixon case, Kathleen Holscher brings together the perspectives of legal advocacy groups, Catholic sisters, and citizens who cared about their schools. She argues that the captive school crusade was a transitional episode in the Protestant-Catholic conflicts that dominateAmerican church-state history. Religious Lessons also goes beyond legal discourse to consider the interests of Americans - women religious included - who did not formally articulate convictions about the separation principle. The book emphasizes the everyday experiences, inside and outsideclassrooms, that defined the church-state relationship for these people, and that made these constitutional questions relevant to them.

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Religious Lessons tells the story of Zellers v. Huff, a court case that challenged the employment of nearly 150 Catholic sisters in public schools across New Mexico in 1948. Known nationally as the "Dixon case," after one of the towns involved, it was the most famous in a series of midcenturylawsuits, all targeting what opponents provo...

Kathleen Holscher is assistant professor of religious studies and American studies, and holds the endowed chair in Catholic studies, at the University of New Mexico. She completed her graduate work at Princeton University, and her undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College. She is originally from Northwest Indiana, and currently lives ...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:274 pages, 9.09 × 6.1 × 0.71 inPublished:January 15, 2016Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190462493

ISBN - 13:9780190462499

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgementsIntroduction1. Educating in the Vernacular: The Foundations of Sister-Taught Public Schools2. "We Live in a Valley Cut Off from the Outside World:" Local Observations on Sisters and the Separation of Church and State3. A Space in Between Walls: Inside the Sister-Taught Public Classrooms of New Mexico4. Captured!: POAU and the National Campaign against Captive Schools5. Habits on Defense: The NCWC and the Legal Debate over Sisters' Clothing6. Sisters and the Trials of SeparationEpilogueBibliography

Editorial Reviews

"This wonderful book demonstrates just how important the 'Dixon' case in New Mexico, and the broader mid-twentieth-century controversy over 'captive schools,' were for the history of church-state relations in America. Even more, Holscher teaches us to see how a contested legal principle-theseparation of church and state-was negotiated in the daily lives of her subjects. Blending innovative approaches from legal and religious history, Religious Lessons will change the way you think about the history it tells." --Tisa Wenger, author of We Have a Religion: The Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom