Oxford University Press | 2022 | 288 pages (hardcover) | $100.00
When I first noticed the publication of Dissenting Daughters: Reformed Women in the Dutch Republic, 1572–1725, I was curious to read it. It revealed, the description said, the vital contribution made by devout women “to the spread and practice of the Reformed faith in the Dutch Republic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” Of the six women included (Cornelia Teellinck, Susanna Teellinck, Anna Maria van Schurman, Sara Nevius, Cornelia Leydekker, and Henrica van Hoolwerff), I was familiar only with Anna Maria van Schurman.
I had read about the Dutch Reformation, as well as its Second or Further Reformation (Nadere Reformatie) and some of its male participants, such as William of Orange, Gisbertus Voetius, and Wilhelmus à Brakel. Most accounts made no mention of women apart from powerful figures such as van Schurman and Princess Elizabeth of the Palatinate. I was looking forward to knowing more about this neglected portion of history, and Pipkin’s book didn’t disappoint. Besides her thorough treatment of the lives and works of her six protagonists, she gives a clear and informed explanation of the times in which they lived and the opportunities afforded to women to teach, write, hold religious meetings, and house ministers and refugees. She also provides an interesting account of how these writings were viewed and appreciated, as well as the various reasons for their almost unanimous acclaim by pastors and theologians.
In discussing the contributions of women within a traditional patriarchal society, Pipkin provides a useful section where she examines a variety of scholarly opinions on the role played by Protestantism. She finds it “curious that Protestantism, whose proponents insistently supported a hierarchy that privileged the male head of households at the expense of their wives, children, and servants, provided some women with opportunities to express their religious authority during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (4). She believes her study contributes to the discussion “by shifting the attention from the father at the center of the story of Protestantism to the network of women surrounding him who studied, taught, wrote, and printed devotional texts” (4). In fact, while the father remained the de facto spiritual head of the family, women took over this role whenever working fathers, especially traveling merchants, “could not or would not offer sufficient domestic religious instruction. . . . Moralists deemed the mission of reforming households so vitally important and onerous that they authorized women to take leadership of domestic religious instruction and worship whenever patriarchs were not willing or able to do so” (45).
Pipkin explains that by encouraging women to put into writing the teachings they were dispensing within their families, “Protestant ministers, church elders, and schoolmasters in the Netherlands . . . transformed women’s traditional work of nurturing and instructing children into an esteemed religious vocation” (19). Most of the influence of these women was amplified by the international network that had been growing throughout Europe. They seemed to be, however, more deeply affected by mysticism than their English counterparts (mysticism and medieval devotion played an important role in the Second Reformation).
After summarizing these facts in the introduction and first chapter, Pipkin devotes a chapter to the Teellinck sisters, one to Anna Maria van Schurman, one to Sara Nevius, and one to Cornelia Leydekker and Henrica van Hoolwerff. I am glad that Pipkin chose to quote quite generously from their writing as most of their works are not available in English in any other volume. These writings afford us a glimpse into these women’s minds and hearts and help us to sympathize with them, their struggles, queries, and conclusions. Even those who don’t agree with their decisions or interpretations can appreciate their questions, concerns, and serious desire to be of service to Christ and others.
Dissenting Daughters is enriched by a large number of endnotes (placed at the end of each chapter) and by a substantial bibliography and list of digital resources at the end of the volume. While this is delightful news for those who want to expand their research, their excitement may be dampened by the fact that most of these references are in Dutch, and that most of the women Pipkin briefly mentions have not been researched at all. Pipkin is fully aware of this obstacle. In fact, she concludes the book by saying,
There remain so many unanswered questions and potential discoveries. This book is a net cast into a deep lake. My intention was to draw in and identify as many women as possible so that others can take up the net again. (230)
Besides this unavoidable disappointment of whetted appetites, some might be slightly annoyed by Pipkin’s repetition of concepts (and in least in one case, an entire sentence). I was not bothered by this since much of this information was new to me and the repetition helped to fix it in my mind, but she might need a more careful editor in the future. As it is for most academic books, the price of this book is also prohibitive for most readers hoping to own their own copy.
Overall, Dissenting Daughters is a fascinating journey into the early history of the Dutch Reformed Church, and one that warrants repeated readings. It introduces us to women who lived in a context many of us will find both radically different and strangely familiar. It is also useful to anyone interested in the history of patriarchy within the church. In fact, we need more of this type of serious and objective examination of history to bring clarity to difficult issues and model an honest and respectful way to address them. I hope that Pipkin will continue her research and inspire others to do the same, and therefore cast more nets into these deep and largely unexplored waters.
Simonetta Carr is the author of numerous books, including Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia through a Mother’s Eyes, and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series (Reformation Heritage Books).