Project Focus and Publication
Dr. Caryn Douglas’ project to document the lives of women who served the Methodist, Presbyterian and after 1925, United Church, as Deaconesses is a large, multifaceted undertaking. The results of the research are published through the website she has developed, UCCDeaconessHistory.ca . The nearly 700 women who were set apart as Deaconesses between 1894 and 1977 were on the whole modest and unassuming. Yet, they were trail blazers, opening doors for inclusion of women in ecclesiological leadership.
Using the Archives in Winnipeg
Winnipeg was a vital centre for Deaconesses, with a large number of women employed, especially in the North End. Manitoba College had the only Deaconess training program outside of Ontario. The Deaconess House at 101 George Street (still standing, on the northern edge of the Theatre District) supported a lively community. Deaconesses, were among Winnipeg’s early social workers, addressing the consequences of poverty, including rampant disease, overcrowding and poor education before governments took on these responsibilities.
Deaconesses were required to leave the Order when they married, a practice called “disjoining”. Officially ended in 1960 its effects lingered for decades. To support an action of apology made to the women and their families by the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario in 2014 Caryn developed a booklet of stories of women from the Conference. The Archives lent support to this work. To view the booklet click here.
Piecing together the lives of women who were almost invisible to the church takes a creative approach. Caryn explains, “The United Church’s own compiled records of the women, and their work, are almost non-existent. But thankfully, there is a paper trail! And it is in the archives! I have been able to do the very basic work of identifying who the women were. This has never been done before. The General Council apologized to women [in 2006] that they couldn’t even name. I have also been able to construct a resume for each woman. The church had this data on ordained ministers, but not for Deaconesses, but they do now.” Caryn explains further, “While the scope of my work is national, the resources here [Winnipeg] have been a valuable, and for me accessible, source of documentation. I could not have done this work without them.”
Award for Excellence
Caryn was the 2010 United Church of Canada McGeachy Senior Scholar. The Scholarship, awarded annually, was established to develop leaders who will inspire the church toward creative and faithful mission.
In 2014, Caryn was the recipient of an Association of Manitoba Archives Award for Excellence in Archival Research. The award recognizes users of archives who have completed an original work of excellence which contributes to the understanding Manitoba history.
Caryn is a United Church Diaconal Minister, an Order with its roots in the Deaconess movement. Her ministry has included congregational work and outreach in Aboriginal communities, but primarily has been focused on education. She served for 10 years as the Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, an ecumenical graduate school that educates people for the diaconate. In 2013-14 she was contracted to process submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the United Church Winnipeg Archives.