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Sisters: Myth and Reality of Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Doopsgezind Women, ca. 1525-1900.

Sisters: Myth and Reality of Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Doopsgezind Women, ca. 1525-1900. Mirjam van Veen, Piet Visser, and Gary K. Waite, eds. Leiden: Brill. 2014. Pp. 336. [member of]135; $175.

Let us all resolve to get the proceedings of conferences to press promptly. These essays derive from a conference held at the Free University of Amsterdam in 2007. Fortunately, these essays are not on a subject for which a great deal of new material becomes available in the scholarly literature every year. A shared motive for the conference was, in fact, the great difficulty of learning more about the lives and outlooks of women Anabaptists, who by definition were modest and self-effacing. In that respect, they were the fulfillment of nearly every early modern patriarch's ideal. This conference called together researchers who struggled to fulfill C. Arnold Snyder's and Linda Huebert Hecht's desideratum of 1996 to move beyond court and devotional records and uncover the lives of Anabaptist women after the initial age of their heroic assertion and martyrdom had passed. Some of these sixteen small studies are based on new sources or old ones pressed harder for what they can reveal. They range far, both geographically and chronologically.

In their introduction, the editors present the method they call imagology, with its necessarily hard "g" presumably built on the Latin imago (6). The definition is by no means clear but evidently entails fitting every protagonist, female and male, into a broader cultural context and thereby grasping more than just the individual's personal traits or one isolated situation. Implicitly--and certainly not explicitly--the advocates of imagology are also interdisciplinary, looking to art, song, literature, and dress along with politics, law, and economy, to yield a composite picture. Presumably, any of these sources could aid our "construction of images of these women and... [our assessment of the] relevance of the applied stereotypes" (6). The applicators of the stereotypes are men, whether from within or without, and they are thoroughly patriarchal. Any vision of a community within which women fully expressed themselves and had access to leadership dies here. Nevertheless, several authors note the absence of women's self-reflection and any signs of dissatisfaction with the submissive, domestic paradigm that society presented to them. As ever, we modern researchers bring our values to bear on past populations.

Like Charles Zika before him in respect to Jews, Gary Waite notes the resonances between the imputed behavior of Anabaptist women and that of witches. Just as witches were seen to be devotees of Satan, so, especially in the seventeenth century, were Anabaptists, who sought isolation not only to practice their non-condoned services but also to allow women to prophesy and to engage in transgressive sexuality. Courts reveal at once their belittlement of women (by holding many women Anabaptists less responsible than the men) and simultaneously their fears of women who might act outside the bounds of normative roles. Linda Huebert Hecht suggests that we set aside our stereotype of Anabaptists as coming solely from humble artisan and laboring classes. She has examined the finances of thirty-six Anabaptist families in Tirol whose property was liable for confiscation owing to their "heresy." "The largest cluster of the Anabaptist properties, 14 of the 36 cases... falls into the middle range... [with estates worth] between 100 and 500 gulden" (73); and four other families were wealthy (tables, 85-87).

Mirjam van Veen observes that within the Netherlandish setting, the Reformed and Anabaptist communities were contestants for membership. Without an established church and with the Reformed a minority, both confessions used marriage practices as a means of attracting people to, or repelling them from, their ranks. Anabaptist polemicists noted that Reformed Christians were not compelled to live uprightly; and Reformed attackers stressed the breakup of families through banning. Both groups opposed mixed marriages. Nicole Grochowina looks more closely at martyrologies and discovers that they reveal gendered patterns of behavior by the heroic victims. The women must subordinate themselves to men, do not discuss theology, and often weep. Martina Bick concludes, apropos of Anabaptist hymns, "There are hardly any women mentioned by name... in contrast to the numerous men. Instead, women are frequently described as objects or bodies" (132).

Part II follows the Anabaptists in "the long seventeenth century." Mirjam de Baar finds that the literary topos of the Menniste Zusja or "Mennonite Sister" is ultimately not flattering. Although originally intended, as by Jan Jansz. Starter's poem, to depict Mennonites' distinctive uprightness, the figure is interpreted differently by different readers. This character may be seen as deporting herself piously on the surface but becoming, under masculine pressure, sexually accessible.

Mary S. Sprunger looks into differences between Waterlander and Doopsgezinden women in Golden Age Amsterdam. Some Waterlander women had visions, but Mennonite and Doopsgezinden, and the Waterlander leaders themselves, disapproved. As members of all three divisions became more bourgeois, Waterlanders held their women members to higher moral standards and rigorous simplicity of adornment. The rich could always gain exceptions.

Lucinda Martin introduces us to Pietist circles in Bern, whose participants are sometimes referred to as "Half-Anabaptists" for their meetings in homes, the participation of women in them, the emotive expressiveness of their worship, and their sympathy and support of full-fledged Anabaptists. Women's prominence "confirmed the potential for social upheaval inherent in the new movement" (221). In 1699, Bern officials cracked down, and most affiliates left Bern.

Michael Driedger's essay on gender, civil society, and the Dutch Enlightenment should be read closely for the shift it traces from a hierarchical relationship between the sexes to one in which the feminine plane is raised but strongly differentiated from the masculine ("social-biological polarity," 249). Anabaptist integration into the emerging civil society, including participation in public service, along with spreading strains of Collegiant and Remonstrant thought, meant that Enlightenment ideas affected concepts of gender. Driedger takes up specific thinkers, whom I must omit for want of space.

Part III moves into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and is subtitled "Subordinate Sisters in Control." Marcel R. Kremer cleverly examines the eighteenth-century personal effects inventories of thirty-two known Anabaptists in and near Groningen. If a spouse died, inheritance required such an inventory. This enables Kremer to assess whether in fact women in the three largest groups of Anabaptist descendants (Old Flemish congregation; United Congregation of Waterlanders and Doopsgezinden; and the Flemish congregation) continued to adhere to simplicity of dress. Were there highly colored items, garments of silk, gold and silver jewelry, high-status cloaks? Kremer is able to detect change over time, in the direction of greater adornment. The women of the Old Flemish congregation were slower to give in to prosperity and fashion than their peers.

Anna Voolstra looks into the rules governing admission to the Doopsgezind Elderly Women's Home in Amsterdam in the eighteenth century. The poor who sought to reside there were supposed to be obedient, hard-working, friendly, contented, devout, and grateful. Elderly women were seen to be childlike and were to be treated as such--with both affection and structure. Mark Jantzen lays before us the efforts of the Prussian state to confine military service exemptions as completely as possible. Mennonite refusal to serve was the principal issue incurring the wrath of the monarchy and eliciting its punitive exertions. Mennonite women were unable to confer a service exemption if they married men outside their faith. Thus, the Mennonites themselves forbade exogamous unions.

John R. Staples finds that notions of romantic love began to influence courtship outside elite classes in nineteenth-century Tsarist Russia. Marriages, Staples finds, were not based on love. "It was a right virtually unknown in pre-modern agrarian societies..." (306). Staples adduces a counter-image from the papers and writings of Johann Cornies (1789-1848), "the prominent secular Mennonite leader" (303). Mennonite parents, Cornies recorded, did not compel their children to marry, either, it seems, at all or a particular person. The Mennonite Ministerial Committee took seriously the testimony of women, too, concerning sexual abuse.

These and other essays offered here constitute a smorgasbord of mainly narrow topics. But each one suggests how in other settings the imaginative researcher might hope to extract a fuller "image" of the most reclusive people of the past.

SUSA C. KARANT-NUNN University of Arizona

(2.) Hans-Jurgen Goertz, "Apokalyptik in Thuringen, Thomas Muntzer - Bauernkrieg - Taufer," in Bauernkrieg zwischen Harz und Thuringer Wald, ed. Gunter Vogler (Zabern: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2008), 337.

(3.) R. Emmett McLaughlin, "Apocalypticism and Thomas Muntzer," Archiv fur Reformationsgeschichte 95 (2004), 110.
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Author:Karant-nunn, Susan C.
Publication:Mennonite Quarterly Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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