The Company of Saint Ursula

The feminist historical narrative tells us that men have been systematically oppressing women for at least 5000 years. The more someone looks at history the more it becomes clear this isn’t true. History is replete with examples of women active in business and politics. Despite what feminists will tell you, societies historically educated their girls as well as their boys. In some societies the education was gender-specific but boys and girls were taught what they needed to know to survive in their societies. Feminists will then go on to tell you that women were only educated to be submissive and obedient. They have a bad answer for everything.

In 1535 Italian woman Angela Merici founded an organisation that still exists today – The Company of Saint Ursula. We might think that a woman able to achieve this in the 16th century would have to be aristocratic or very wealthy. Not so. Merici’s parents had been farmers but she was orphaned at 10. She and her sister were taken in by an uncle while her brothers remained to run the family farm. Today we would call her family middle class, perhaps upper middle class.

Later when her sister died she became more religiously devout. At 20 Merici moved back to the family farm. She was apparently given a plot of land of her own by her brothers. It doesn’t appear that she was under any pressure to marry. She could have lived on her farm, in safety, unmarried, for the rest of her life if she wished. Instead she started a school for girls. Later she did the same in a nearby city.

It was at this point that Merici established the Company of Saint Ursula. Notably the organisation is not monastic. The members participate in community life like anyone else with many today having regular jobs. The organisation continues to admit only women.

Merici believed she had received a calling from God but whatever the reason she quickly attracted a group of followers, men and women alike. Ultimately she decided to make her new organisation female-only. She selected 12 women as founding members. These women devoted themselves to caring for the sick and educating girls under the leadership of Merici.

By the time of her death in 1540 there were 24 communities in Italy educating girls and tending to the sick. In 1544 the Pope approved the rules she had set out for the organisation and he formally recognised it in 1546. In the late 16th century some chapters of the organisation adopted monasticism and thus left the organisation originally set up by Merici.

All of this was done by women in a time when they were supposedly oppressed by men. In this case one woman established an organisation, women then gathered and excluded men. They set up schools for girls. And all of this received the endorsement of the church hierarchy.

Like other religious organisations, the organisation was suppressed by Napoleon Boneparte following his invasion of Italy. The organisation recovered after French forces withdrew and continued to grow. The 20th century saw the organisation expand outside of Italy.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly the organisation is named after a Romano-British woman from late 4th century England who even the Catholic Church admits might not have existed. Regardless, Merici very much admired Saint Ursula. The organisation claims Merici wanted her followers to adhere to the ideals of this ancient British saint.

Here we see some of the key points highlighted in The Victorian Fallacy:

  • The feminist historical narrative is largely fiction
  • Men have not systematically oppressed women around the world and throughout history
  • Both men and women have been active participants in societies around the world and throughout history
  • When women want to take on typically male roles men generally let them

The featured image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and depicts the resting place of Saint Angela Merici.

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