Conway, Katherine Eleanor

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CONWAY, Katherine Eleanor

Born 1852, Rochester, New York; died 2 January 1927, Boston, Massachusetts

Daughter of James and Sarah Conway

Katherine Eleanor Conway's parents were Irish Catholic immigrants and Conway received a traditional Catholic girls' school education. After graduation from Sacred Heart Academy in New York City, she began her career as a teacher, but she soon left the field to become an assistant editor at the Buffalo Catholic Union and Times. Conway later successively became the editor of three Catholic newspapers: the Catholic Union, the Pilot, and the Republic. During her editorial career Conway lectured, taught at St. Mary's College for Women in Indiana, traveled, and wrote. She remained single and was active in Catholic intellectual and literary circles. In 1907 she was awarded the Laetare Medal by Notre Dame University; this award, founded in 1883, was given each year to an American Catholic for distinguished accomplishments on behalf of the Church and/or the nation. A similar, higher honor was awarded to Conway in 1912 when Pope Pius X conferred upon her the decoration Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for Church and Pope.

Conway's nonfiction and poetry best characterize the style and intent of her work. The major motivation behind her nonfiction writing was to reinforce the traditional role of Catholic wife and mother. Even though Conway herself worked outside of the home and never married, she expended a tremendous amount of literary effort to promote woman's domestic roles. In the late 1890s she wrote The Family Sitting Room Series, a five-volume collection of books directed toward young Catholic women.

Although Conway posed insightful questions concerning many turn-of-the-century, upwardly mobile, Catholic women, she answered those questions in a traditional Catholic manner. She asked rhetorically in The Christian Gentlewoman (1904), "What is the good—the highest good—for a woman? Simply, the perfection of her womanhood." For Conway a woman's power and ability came from her "natural charms," "large-hearted simplicity," "lack of self-consciousness." A woman's role in activating social change was limited to exerting influence on her children and husband.

Conway's poetry almost exclusively explored the relationship between God and human in the face of hardships, especially death. Life might be bitter, but death was sweet, for it brought the intimate meeting between God and his children. Conway used specifically religious images to convey her message of meaningful death, such as the Resurrection and the death of Joseph of Nazareth. But it was in her poem "Her Little Dying Son" that she most explicitly expressed the delights of death. Drawing from the Victorian leitmotif of the dying child, Conway created the scene of a dying son telling his mother not to grieve: "His arm is underneath my head!—Oh, it is splendid—being dead!"

One cannot fully evaluate the significance and creativity of Conway's writing without analyzing her role as journalist. Her active life as editor, lecturer, teacher, and writer stood in conflict with her perceived standard of womanhood. As a member of the emerging Catholic middle class, Conway articulated many of the important questions facing Catholic women. Her answers, however, were traditional and inattentive to women's needs. Although Conway's own life was filled with professional achievement and intellectual stimulation, she did not regard it to be a viable life style for all women.

Other Works:

On the Sunrise Slope (1881). The Good Shepherd in Boston (1892). A Dream of Lilies (1893). A Lady and Her Letters (1895). Making Friends and Keeping Them (1895). Questions of Honor in Christian Life (1896). New Footsteps in Well-Trodden Ways (1899). The Way of the World and Other Ways … Bettering Ourselves (1899). A Story of Our Set (1900). Lalor's Maples (1901). In the Footprints of the Good Shepherd (1907). Charles Francis Donnelly; A Memoir (1909). The Woman Who Never Did Wrong, and Other Stories (1909). Fifty Years with Christ, The Good Shepherd (1925). The Color of Life: A Selection from the Poems of Katherine E. Conway (1947).


Romig, W., Guide to Catholic Literature 1888-1940 (1940).

Other reference:

Catholic World 124.