How the Protestant Reformation Gave Rise to Women’s Liberation

The Protestant Revolution: Part 2 The Godly Family

BBC (2005)

Film Review

In Part 2 of the Protestant Revolution, historian Richard Jones-Nerzic explores the steady transformation of women’s lives following the Protestant reformation.

Whereas men and women were assigned segregated seating in the medieval Catholic church, they began sitting together in Protestant churches. Likewise sex ceased to be a sin, and clergy began to marry. Luther himself set the example when he married a former nun.

Luther’s idealized family life changed radically when the industrial revolution forced men out of the home into factories. During the Victorian era, well-to-do educated wives assumed an evangelical role as they led charitable crusades among the urban poor – building Sunday schools, orphanages and hospitals. They quickly became frustrated that this charitable work produced little real reform and began campaigning for real political power through anti-slavery and women’s suffrage campaigns.

However, according to Jones-Nerzic, their work in the war industry during the two world wars was definitely the most liberating factor in the lives of 20th century women.

The last third of the film explores the vehement backlash against equality and control over their own reproductive lives with the rise of fundamentalist Christianity.