Feature

Mary Daly

The scholar who barred men from her classes

Mary Daly1928–2010

“I hate the Bible,” said religious scholar Mary Daly. “I always did.” A fierce feminist who deplored the patriarchy of organized religion, she was one of the first American women to train as a Roman Catholic theologian. But the self-described “positively revolting hag” was best known for refusing to admit men to her college classes.

Daly became consumed with women’s rights while growing up in Schenectady, N.Y. “She burned with ‘unquenchable’ rage,” said the Los Angeles Times, “at the male classmate who gloated that he was an altar boy and that she, as a girl, could never ‘serve Mass.’” After earning doctorates in theology and philosophy at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, she began teaching at Boston College, a Jesuit institution, in 1966. Two years later, her persistent criticism of the church prompted administrators to give her “a one-year contract, in essence firing her.” After some 1,500 people marched in protest, she was granted tenure.

Daly wrote of religious misogyny in such books as The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and Beyond God the Father (1973). “After Boston College went co-ed in the early 1970s, she only allowed women to take her classes,” said The Boston Globe. Although she tutored some men privately, Daly said they “clouded the learning environment” and inhibited open discussion. But in 1998, a male student, Duane Naquin, threatened to sue her after she refused him admission to her feminist ethics course. The incident became a cause célèbre, especially among conservative critics. When the college tried to force Daly to retire, she sued, assailing administrators as “bore-ocrats” who suffered from “academentia.” In 2001, the two parties reached a settlement and she retired.

Daly said she became a radical “post-Christian” lesbian feminist after concluding that reforming the Catholic Church from within was hopeless. That would be, she said, “like a black person trying to reform the Ku Klux Klan.”

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