Summary: In the midst of a deadly heat wave during the summer of 1834, a woman clawed her way over the wall of an Ursuline convent on Mount Benedict in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and escaped to the home of a neighbor, pleading for protection. When the bishop, Benedict Fenwick, persuaded her to return, vicious gossip began swirling through the Yankee community and in the press that she was being held at the convent against her will, and had even been murdered. The rumored fat ...show moree of the 'Mysterious Lady,' as she became popularly known, ultimately led to the burning of the convent by an angry, drunken mob of Protestant men. The arsonists' ringleader, a brawny bricklayer named John Buzzell, became a folk hero. The nuns scattered, and their proud and feisty mother superior, Mary Anne Moffatt, who battled the working-class rioters and Church authorities, faded mysteriously into history.
Nancy Lusignan Schultz brings alive this forgotten event, focusing her probing lens on a time when independent, educated women were feared as much as immigrants and Catholics, and anti-Papist diatribes were the stuff of bestsellers and standing-room-only lectures. She provides a glimpse into nineteenth-century Boston and into an elite boarding school for young women, mostly the daughters of wealthy Protestants, vividly dissecting the period's roiling tensions over class, gender, religion, ethnicity, and education.
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