Uncovering Women's Invisible Volunteer Work: The Role of Women's Work in an Episcopal Church in the United States
For most of the 200 years, women were excluded from the decision-making roles. Instead, they engaged in highly gendered work. They cleaned the church and the parish house, sewed vestments, washed and iron the vestments and linens, visited the sick and elderly, and prepared countless meals. They baked and sewed for fundraisers that paid off the church’s debt, bought coal to heat the parish house, and purchased new choir robes. Yet it was not until 1938 that women could vote in parish elections and not until 1968 that the first woman was elected to the governing board of the church. While the previously all-male domains of parish life, such as the governing board and the ushers, are now sex-integrated, the invisible work that women have historically done, especially the cleaning, washing, ironing, and sewing, is still done only by women. The gendered knowledge and skills passed on to each successive generation of women have proved vital to the well-being of this church.