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Article Title

The Life of Mother Marie- Joseph De L’enfant Jesus, Or, How a Little English Girl from Wells Became a Big French Politician

Publication Date

1-1-2002

Document Type

Article

First Page

280

Last Page

308

Abstract

In 1703 seven-year-old Esther Wheelwright was kidnapped from her home by the Wabanaki during an attack on the town of Wells, Maine. Ultimately sold to a French missionary and taken to Quebec, she converted to Catholicism, entered the Ursuline convent, and rose to become their first and last English-born Mother Superior. Her biographers have seen Esther Wheelwright/Mother Esther de L’Enfant Jesus as a passive instrument of religion and politics and have rendered her nothing more than an antiquarian curiosity. This study instead explores how her ability to cross many borders— national, religious, and linguistic—enabled Mother Esther to become both an influential religious leader and a skilled diplomat. By exploring the political dimensions of her life, this essay also reconciles the often competing demands of biography, which can work to diminish women’s lives, and women’s history, which seeks to put women’s experiences at the center of historical analysis. Ann M. Little is an Assistant Professor of History at Colorado State University. She has recently completed a book manuscript, Abraham in Arms: Gender and Power on the New England Frontier, 1620-1760. This essay is a preliminary exploration of a second book, a biographical study of Mother Esther de L‘Enfant Jesus.

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