"Up against a Stone Wall": Women, Power and the National Catholic Community Houses
This article is about the rise and fall of the National Catholic Community Houses,institutions created by the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) and run by Catholic laywomen. It explores how Catholic laywomen sought to take advantage of the opportunities the post World War I era offered to create viable national institutions, and the forces outside and within their church that undermined their efforts. They faced three interrelated problems that ultimately caused the project to fail. First, while the bishops and priests of the NCWC did willingly support the creation of women-run institutions, they stopped far short of the idea of making them women-controlled institutions. Second, although the women who ran the houses had ambitions that they would take their place as equals in the world of social work, their defensive attitudes undermined their efforts to build useful networks with both non-Catholic social workers and Catholic women religious who had far greater experience in the field. Finally, Catholic laywomen struggled to run these national institutions within local dioceses and parishes where priests and bishops aggressively protected their territory. The combination of these factors meant that Catholic laywomen who ran the National Catholic Community Houses were continually running into stone walls.