Subjected and productive bodies: The educational vision of the Ursulines in early colonial New Orleans

Tracy Ebbs, University of Pennsylvania


The Ursuline nuns who arrived in New Orleans in 1727 were subjected and productive bodies--subjected in that their limited power was exercised on the Church's terms and remained within a religious framework, and productive in that they helped to stabilize the colony and proselytize the inhabitants. Founded in sixteenth-century Italy, the Ursuline order grew and flourished under Tridentine law as an organization whose purpose was to provide girls with a Catholic education. In seventeenth-century France, the order became firmly established as a Catholic educational institution whose success lay in its willingness to accept the Church's stringent regulations governing women's religious orders and education, and in its development and standardization of a Catholic educational program. Between 1727 and 1734, the Ursulines were established in New Orleans as a vanguard of Catholicism on the colonial frontier. Drawing upon primary (French language) sources written by and about the Ursulines, this study traces the development of their educational practice, their commitment to their mission of providing girls with a Catholic education, and their devotion to the Church--factors that explain their survival and durability as a New Orleans institution. It lso locates the Ursulines within a nexus of patriarchal relations, notably the struggle between the Jesuits and Capuchins, and the cultural conflicts that marked the era of French colonialism in Louisiana. The case of the New Orleans Ursulines illustrates pointedly Foucault's theory of "subjected and productive bodies," which is the main interpretive framework of this analysis.

Subject Area

Education history|Womens studies|American history|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Ebbs, Tracy, "Subjected and productive bodies: The educational vision of the Ursulines in early colonial New Orleans" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9627914.