This group biography follows three generations of ministers' daughters and wives in a famed American Unitarian family. Shifting the focus from pulpit to parsonage, and from sermon to whispered secrets, Cynthia Tucker humanizes the Eliots and their religious tradition and lifts up a largely neglected female vocation. Spanning 150 years from the early 19th century forward, the narrative shapes itself into a series of stories. Each of six chapters takes up a different woman's defining experience, from the deaths of numerous children and the anguish of infertility to the suffocation of small parish life with its chronic loneliness, doubt, and resentment. One woman confides in a rare close friend, another in the anonymous readers of magazines that publish her poems. A third escapes from an ill-fitting role by succumbing to neurasthenia, leaving one debilitating condition for another. The matriarch's granddaughters script larger lives, bypassing marriage and churchly employment to follow their hearts into same-sex relationships, and major careers in public health and preschool education. In two concluding chapters, Tucker enlarges the frame to bring in the regular parish women who collectively give voice to issues the ministers' kin must keep to themselves. All of the stories are linked by the women's continuing battles to make themselves heard over clerical wisdom that contradicts their reality.
* As revisionist history, this biography challenges the focus and limits of liberal religious scholarship, the bulk of which has remained androcentric and skewed to the public stage.
* This book includes such clerical failings as one brother's sordid affair and his colleagues' efforts to cover it up; the Eliot husband's domestic tyranny; and their wives' susceptibility to loneliness and depression.
* This book emphasizes the important roles of Abby and Martha Eliot, who choose same-sex partnerships over traditional marriage, are given the prominence they deserve. In the chapters given to them, emerging not only as integral parts of the family, but as professional women whose work, fueled by a pastoral impulse, represents an evolution of the clergy wives' roles.
* The struggles the Eliot women had a century ago are still common among the spouses and children of clergy today.
Praise for No Silent Witness:
"In Prophetic Sisterhood , Cynthia Tucker demonstrated that women's networks are as fascinating as their individual lives. Here she brings her trademark style of group biography to the wives and daughters of Unitarianisms most distinguished clerical family. Tucker reveals almost the whole of Unitarian history (and much more!) through the eyes of women, challenging scholars of other traditions to map the friendships and ministries of the amphibious creatures who inhabit parsonages."
--Dan McKanan, Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity, Harvard Divinity School
"In this compelling and beautifully written text, Cynthia Grant Tucker unearths the complexity of the lives of wives, sisters and mothers of ministers, highlighting the ways in which women challenged the divisions between the private and public, personal and political, and secular and sacred, as they sought to express their creativity in ways that were personally fulfilling and socially transformative. In her honest recounting of the ambiguities of these lives marked by both privilege and limitation, Tucker gives us a deeper and richer understanding of the complexity of human experience."
--Sharon D. Welch, author of After Empire: The Art and Ethos of Enduring Peace