Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Interdisciplinary Studies in Historical Geography

First Advisor

Christine A. Ogren

First Committee Member

David Bills

Second Committee Member

Rex Honey

Third Committee Member

Scott McNabb

Fourth Committee Member

Paul Robbins

Fifth Committee Member

Malcom Rohrbough


From the arrival of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs) in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1843 through the death of their foundress in 1887, the BVMs created a group identity that they spread through the dispersion of their schools and that they maintained through regular written and personal contact. The identity they maintained was definitely religious in nature, but it was also equally secular. The BVMs provided a type of teaching that historians and geographers of U.S. education have not yet fully investigated, namely Catholic education. These women regularly taught and administered for lifelong careers; interactions among the women teachers and administrators were both deeply personal and pointedly professional; and these U.S. teachers actively supported and benefited from centralization. The research explores the dispersion pattern of the BVM school system, the nature of the institution through the experiences of BVM teachers and administrators, and the importance of recognizing the intertwining secular and sacred aspects of the congregation and its schools. Rather than reducing U.S. education to public education, the findings in this dissertation about BVM teachers and their schools call for a more nuanced understanding of U.S. education in general, one that includes Catholic education as a part of the whole.


BVM Sisters, Catholic Education, Historical Geography, Nineteenth-Century Education


ix, 221 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 215-221).


Copyright 2009 Rachel Katherine Daack Riley