Daughters of Isabella

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The Daughters of Isabella (DOI) is a beneficent society incorporated in 1907 under the laws of the state of Connecticut to unite Catholic women in the interests of the Church and society, and in their own religious, intellectual, and social needs. The society had its origin in the Russell Circle instituted in New Haven, Connecticut, May 14, 1897, as an auxiliary to Russell Council No. 65 of the Knights of Columbus. Named for the Reverend John Russell, pastor of St. Patrick's church in New Haven, the circle secured a charter under the name of National Circle, Daughters of Isabella by a special act of the General Assembly of Connecticut in July 1907. In May 1963, the name was legally changed to Daughters of Isabella. Like the Knights, initiation rituals of the DOI are secret and the members continue to use a secret password to verify membership at meetings.

The international circle includes the episcopal advisor, the liaison bishop, the international officers and directors, one delegate from each local circle, and the state regents. In 1929 the national convention of the DOI authorized formation of state circles, with four circles required to form a state circle. This group meets biennially in August for legislative purposes and for the election of officers and directors.

The society is composed of international officers, a board of directors, state circles and local circles located in the United States and Canada. Membership grew from the initial 67 charter members in 1897 to peak at 133,000 in 1959. By June of 2000 the DOI had 70,000 members who met in 691 circles, 348 in Canada and 343 in the United States. Introduced in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in March 1925, the society at one point numbered more than 240 circles throughout the provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. In May 1951, three circles began in the Philippines and soon increased to 38. However, because the Philippine government did not allow members to send money out of the country, the circles had to be abandoned.

The DOI has been benefactor to the orphan, the missionary, the refugee and religious communities, as well as Catholic educational institutions and foundations. The society established a memorial in 1943 in the form of the Queen Isabella Foundation in the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America. The foundation provides graduate fellowships, many of which have gone to students from the Far East and Latin America. From 1941 to 1992 the order helped finance the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine home study service to provide religious instruction for men and women in the armed forces of the United States. Scholarship grants have also been provided for training religious sisters in methods of teaching the handicapped, and for catechists and seminarians. Memorials established by the society include the statue of Mary Immaculate over the south balcony entrance of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The society also has given assistance to Catholic radio and television.

Between 1961 and 1963 the order published the Isabellan, a magazine for Catholic women that included editorials, Catholic news stories, and activities of the circles. The Daughters of Isabella Newsletter, published periodically, replaced the magazine.

Bibliography: Archives of the Daughters of Isabella (New Haven, Conn.)

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