Luther and Women

What does this mean? I remember reciting this question and the responses when I was a seventh grader in confirmation class studying Luther’s Small Catechism.  I could not have guessed when I was 13 that I would still be asking myself that question- What does this mean?  Except now, when I ask the question- What does this mean?-  I’m reflecting on my vocation of being a mama and a teacher.  What does this mean to be a mama and a teacher?

During my recent research for my dissertation study I found myself studying the very nature of these questions. As a researcher I believe in order to better understand the world of today, one must understand the world of yesterday. This meant that I spent quite a bit of time reading a variety of history books to more fully understand the history of women in the Western world- specifically how women became to represent the teaching profession.  In 2011–12, 76 percent of public school teachers were female (National Center for Education Statistics). What I found was the foundation for this reality was laid during the Reformation.

During Luther’s Reformation, women became valued for their role in the family’s religious instruction (McClelland, 1992). Luther was an early supporter of educating both boys and girls, because he believed when girls become mothers they would then be able to manage the home and children, including the religious instruction within the home (Virtual Museum of Protestantism). Prior to this time the majority of women were not even literate. (Virtual Museum of Protestantism; Vandenbery-Daves, 2014).

These beliefs and values from the Reformation followed the settlers to the New Land and became the foundation of the political movement of the republican mother in the new republic (McClelland, 1992). A republican mother was a mother that was educated. And she was educated, so she could raise her sons to be able to effectively participate in the nation’s government and her daughters to be future wives and mothers that would one day be the ones raising the next generation to participate in the government.  The success of the new country was in the hands of mothers and their work in their homes.

The republican mother political movement also determined mothers to be morally superior to men (Hays, 1996; Vandenberg-Daves, 2014). So, when the idea for a free and public education for all came to the newly founded country, it only made sense to seek women- the ones morally superior- to become teachers. (Of course, there was also an economic reason, but that’s a post for another day.)  Fast forward to today and one can see that Luther’s beliefs from the Reformation continue to persist, especially in our schools and homes.

It means that as a mama in today’s world, I still feel like I am the one that is ultimately responsible for not only the successes of my children, but also their failures. If my children fail, somehow I have failed them, as their mama. And it means that my home (its cleanliness and my cooking) are also attributed to me, as the mama.  It doesn’t matter that I have a husband that can help with our children and home, because the pressure is not on him- it’s on me, as the mama.

I mentioned at the beginning that I’m also a teacher, specifically a professor in the College of Education. The teaching vocation is also a vocation that carries a lot of responsibility. So, how do I negotiate my vocations- mama and teacher? Unlike the clear answers given in the Catechism, I am still looking for the answers to my questions- the “what does this mean?”  But, I believe that during my recent research for my dissertation study I came to more fully understand and appreciate both of my vocations.

baker momI have included two images that helped me understand and appreciate my vocations- mama and teacher.  The first image is a picture my oldest son snapped one Saturday morning while I was helping one of our twins learn to scramble eggs on the stove.  At the time our youngest child, our daughter was stubborn in learning to walk (she was 15 months in this image), since she enjoyed being carried around by not only me, but also her big brothers.)

bakerAnd the other image was captured during my work at Concordia Texas, as a teacher.  It was actually a marketing photo shoot image, but I also remember from this image that I had just returned from my maternity leave, after having our daughter.  She was only three months when this image was taken, so while I see the immense joy that my teaching vocation brings to me in my eyes, I also see my tired eyes from having a newborn in our home and caring for our other three children, too.

Of course, some would be quick to say that perhaps I shouldn’t be working outside of the home-my greatest vocation is in the home. But, what if I feel called to both?  And what would Martin Luther say today about my feeling called to both? While it’s always hard to know for sure what one from the past would say about our today, Martin Luther did write about the possibilities of a professional career for women.  He wrote that girls should also study the liberal arts like their brothers (Green, 1979). And he even pointed out the need for female teachers. Before women entered the teaching profession it was considered a profession for men. So, maybe if Luther was writing today he would be encouraging women to be professionals, in addition to their vocation of being mothers.

For me, I have decided that I don’t want to choose between the two- that I can be both a mama and a teacher. And looking at the images just reminds of this even more, because the joy I feel from even from looking at these two images of my vocations fills my heart with gratitude to the Lord.

Oct. 19, 2017 by Sarah Baker
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