Early Feminist Practicality in Europe

On the Deutsche Welle TV channel, I just watched a short special on the history of a unique kind of social experiment, the Beguines. These groups of women, living together by choice and protecting each other from prevailing social beliefs that single women were either poverty-stricken widows, prostitutes, or nuns, provided a safe place for women of wealth and those with nothing to live productive lives.

In the book The Edge of the World (https://www.amazon.com/Edge-World-Cultural-History-Transformation/dp/168177206X),  I read about this organization of communities for single women that were not convents (Beguines took no vows and could leave at any time) but which served as a refuge and place to live and work for single women in Europe.

An old photograph of the beguinage at Diksmuide.
Thomas Beckett, archbishop of Canterbury, came here on his flight from Henry II in 1170.

 "There is agreement that the movement began in Belgium sometime in the mid 1100s and created much controversy. Who could accept that women might live a life of prayer, dedication to God and service to the poor outside canonically recognized Benedictine or Dominican cloisters and governed by men? Unthinkable!"


A Medieval Beguine


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