Mary Daly Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 947 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

Mary Daly’s feminist views and writings have earned her both respect and censure. Early in her academic career, after the publication of The Church and the Second Sex (1968), Boston College fired her for such statements as, “[A] woman’s asking for equality in the church would be comparable to a black person’s demanding equality in the Ku Klux Klan.” Although student protests led to her reinstatement and tenure, the experience resulted in Daly’s radicalization and prompted her to see the universal condition of women in patriarchal institutions.

Daly’s writings, such as Beyond God the Father (1974), explore misogyny in religion in conjunction with the antiwoman attitudes pervasive in society. In Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage (1992), she describes her battle against “the demons of assimilation,” as well as “the demonic forces of elimination, who/which erase women’s histories and our very lives, . . . [and] the demonic forces of fragmentation, which cut women off from our true Present and from our Presence to our Selves and to each Other.”

Much of Daly’s focus has been on the power of language and the need for a woman-identified, nonpatriarchal language women can use to describe and “Re-member” female experience and wisdom. In such works as Gyn/Ecology (1978), Pure Lust (1984), and Webster’s First New...

(The entire section is 488 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Durham, Paula Hope. “Patriarchy and Self-Hate.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 13, no. 1 (1997): 119-130. Compares and contrasts Daly’s analysis of patriarchy with Karen Horney’s psychological theories about self-hate.

Feminist Theology 24 (May, 2000). The entire issue of this journal is given over to essays on Daly’s theology concerning radical and lesbian feminism.

Griffin, Cindy L. “Women as Communicators: Mary Daly’s Hagography as Rhetoric.” Communication Monographs 60, no. 2 (1993): 158-177. Examines Mary Daly’s theory of women as communicators in the context of rhetoric theory.

Henking, Susan E. “The Personal Is the Theological: Auto-biographical Acts in Contemporary Feminist Theology.” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 59, no. 3 (1991): 511. The relationship between Daly’s personal experience and her scholarship prior to the publication of Outercourse is nicely analyzed.

Hoagland, Sarah Lucia, and Marilyn Frye, eds. Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly. University Park: State University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. A collection of essays assessing Daly’s contributions to feminist thought and suggesting further areas in which her theories can be used for research.

Pears, Angie. “When Leaving Is Believing.” Feminist Theology 29 (January, 2002): 9-19. Discusses the incompatibility of Christianity with feminism, using Daly’s writings as a basis.

Ratcliffe, Krista. Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, and Adrienne Rich. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995. Valuable critique of Daly’s use of language.

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. “The Idea of God in Feminist Theology.” Hypatia 9, no. 4 (1994): 57-68. Places Daly’s ideas in the context of other feminist theologians.