Mary Daly was one of the most important and influential voices of the radical feminist movement in the United States. The only child of working-class, Irish-Catholic parents, Daly grew up with a strong sense of her ethnic and religious heritage. As a young woman, she developed a passionate desire to become a philosopher and a theologian. Encouraged by her parents, and especially by her mother, Daly pursued her intellectual dream, receiving her Ph.D. in religion at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, in 1953, at the age of twenty-five. Still yearning for a doctorate in philosophy, Daly applied to the University of Notre Dame but was denied entrance because she was a woman.
Undaunted, she traveled overseas to Switzerland in 1959. By 1963 she had completed a doctorate of sacred theology at the University of Fribourg; two years later, in 1965, she completed a third doctorate in philosophy. Armed with enviable academic credentials deserving of respect from even her most skeptical male peers, Daly returned to the United States in 1966 to begin her career as a writer, teacher, and scholar.
Daly began her teaching career in the Department of Theology at Boston College, a Jesuit institution. Following the publication of The Church and the Second Sex, which contained a harsh analysis of the Catholic Church’s treatment of women, Daly was terminated from her position at Boston College. She became a cause célèbre as students protested her firing, and in 1969 she was reinstated with promotion and tenure. Occurring at a time of social unrest in the United States—protests against the war in Vietnam were common, and the feminist movement was gaining momentum—this experience transformed Daly, and she began to embrace feminist principles. For her, the situation at Boston College was emblematic of women’s oppression under a patriarchal, male-dominated society in which women were continually devalued.
During the early 1970’s Daly began to formulate more clearly her philosophical and theological positions. Using her extensive training, she attempted to reconcile her feminist beliefs and experiences with her knowledge of Christian theology and philosophy. In Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, a work heavily influenced by the work of...
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