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No Silent Witness: The Eliot Parsonage Women and Their Unitarian World (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Dr. Cynthia Grant-Tucker's 2010 biography, "No Silent Witness," follows three generations of ministers’ daughters, mothers, and wives in one of America’s most influential Unitarian dynasties: the family of Abby Adams Cranch and William Greenleaf Eliot. Shifting the center of gravity from pulpits to parsonages, and from confident sermons to whispered doubts, it humanizes the Eliot saints, demystifies their liberal religion, and lifts up a largely unsung female vocation.

Spanning 150 years from the early 19th century forward, the narrative probes the women’s defining experiences: the deaths of numerous children, the anguish of infertility, persistent financial worries, and the juggling of the often competing demands that parishes make on first ladies.

Here, too, we see the matriarch’s granddaughters scripting larger lives as they skirt traditional marriage and women’s usual roles in the church. They follow their hearts into same-sex unions and blaze new trails as they carve out careers in public health service and preschool education.

These stories are linked by the women’s continuing battles to speak and make themselves heard over the thundering clerical wisdom that contradicts their reality.

I found the book to be a fascinating read, mostly because Dr. Tucker's narrative of these women's lives quickly pulled me in to "see" for myself what they had gone through. Especially in a world where our foremothers' stories remain largely untold, the female perspective on history really brings new light to the past. Unitarian-Univeraliststs have our revered historical figures of the 19th century, but No Silent Witness gives a rounded-out view of their lives and times.

Her research into each woman is thorough. Genealogical charts and a family roster are provided to give the reader more solid information to bring all the stories into a whole. She makes every effort to show the struggles of each woman in attempting to keep in her life some kind of balance between her own needs and those of others. Their varying level of success speaks to us in a very personal way, as Tucker delves into their personal qualities, hopes, dreams and emotions.

Author of the acclaimed Prophetic Sisterhood, Tucker also offers an online Discussion Kit for groups, www.nosilentwitness.org.


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