R.I.P. Mary Daly

Mary Daly, radical feminist/theology scholar, passed away yesterday morning at the age of 81.  I’ll just let her own biography speak for itself:

Mary Daly–triple Ph.D., grande dame of feminist theologian scholarship, demolition derbyist of patriarchal “mindbindings,” perennial foe of “university bore-ocrats and other academented busybodies,” self-described “Positively Revolting Hag,” […] started out a perfectly normal, good little girl, albeit unusually bright who wanted to study philosophy and religion.

Amazing as it may seem twoscore years later, in the 1950s there were no American universities that allowed women to enter their graduate programs in theology. Dismayed, yet determined to follow her path, Daly repaired to Switzerland, living on a shoestring for several years and amassing various advanced degrees from the University of Freiburg when not sojourning about Europe on a scooter.

Back in the States, Daly found herself amidst social currents that would soon give rise to the civil rights and antiwar movements of the sixties. In her own sphere she was beginning to take aim–with all cool academic rigor–at the male supremacism of organized Christianity, first in The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and then in the groundbreaking, germinal Beyond God the Father (1973). […]

A scholar and seeker by nature, Daly did not set out to be a radical. But a telling sentence in Outercourse might explain the impetus that created a radical’s life–and indeed that drives all progress: “I was looking,” she writes, “for something that was not in the courses.”

I was first introduced to Daly’s work in undergrad.  I was taking Feminist Theory, and Daly was briefly mentioned in the Intro to Feminism book.  Intrigued, I bought a copy of Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, and later, Beyond God the Father.  Some of her presentation is way a little out there, but I’m grateful that I was exposed to her scholarship so early in my studies.

So thank you, Mary Daly, wherever you are (embarking on another Piratic enterprise in a Fifth Spiral Galaxy, perhaps?).



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6 Responses to R.I.P. Mary Daly

  1. Allyson says:

    Well, she lived a long life, and a full one at that.

    I never agreed with Daly completely, but her philosophies/writing were and continue to be incredibly important for me in my views on religion and developing spirituality.

  2. SAHMmy says:

    Good riddance. Nasty woman died cold and alone.

    [Mod note: I don’t know if she actually died “cold and alone” (c’mon, play nice), but I can understand why people did not like her.]

  3. SheilaG says:

    Actually, Mary Daly died with her friend Nancy by her side, as another friend was reading to her from one of her books. She had a loyal group of former graduate students who really looked after her in her old age, and of course now she’ll be there in spirit for all the ages. For all the women who loved freedom, and who wanted a way out of male supremacy and domination, she was a heroine. The hateful comment above is just about ignorance of the real life of Mary Daly, and probably someone who has not read all her books.

    She was a great teacher who gave 100% for her women students, who lectured widely and was beloved in European feminist circles. I had the pleasure of meeting her several times and listening to standing room only lectures. She broke solid academic ground for women in philosophy and theology worldwide, and opened countless doors for women in these professions through her persistence.
    She was the first to do an think so many things. She never ever fudged on principles or on her desire for women to be as intellectually free as possible. Because of Mary Daly, women’s studies departments thrive in the U.S., and there are whole generations of women scholars and theological thinkers who created new organizations and much needed spiritual support and passion for women.
    Her colleague and friend Mary Hunt always had her ear, and became a world renoun theologican and lesbian feminist visionary in her own right.

    Of course many people don’t want women to be free, and are shocked that someone would give her all to women. Both men AND women are trained from birth to not support women 100%. To give women all the energy and support is treason in patriarchy, but like all oppressed groups, they can collude in the oppression as well. Mary Daly revealed ways to get out of that sado/spiritual syndrome as she called it. She’s a weaving webster and spinning spinster in the fifth dimenstion, or perhaps her spirit journied to her much beloved country of women– probably she’s talking to Virginia Woolf and Matilda Joselyn Gage right now 🙂

  4. voz says:


    Uncritical thanks…and you can’t plead ignorance. You read Gyn/Ecology and liked it. Daly shaped you as a feminist, as you state here.

    I know you a lot better now.

    I see that you give thanks to someone who wished to exterminate whole populations, and openly demonized an entire group of women for years.

    I know you now, and I really wish I didn’t. I really do.

  5. Melissa says:

    Hey voz,

    Something I wish I had been more clear about when I wrote this was that I’m thankful to Daly for exposing me to that side of radical feminism–her style of over-the-top theory, the whole new language she creates–not for writing something that I agree wholeheartedly with. In that sense, yes, I did like Gyn/Ecology very much. I didn’t necessarily like what she was saying, but I did like that I was exposed to it. The reason I’m glad to have read Daly so early in my studies is that prior to that period, I had a very naive worldview of feminism.

    I was re-reading this yesterday morning, and I could clearly see how that thank you could be misinterpreted. That was perhaps the biggest motivation to publish yesterday’s post: to show that she was a polarizing figure, and that she did say and write and practice some very hateful things.

    But I wasn’t going to come back and edit this to make myself sound better. I wrote it, it’s been published, and I’ll step up and own it.

    I’m sorry.

  6. Dr. Siobhan Cohen says:

    I read Mary Daly as a young student and was smitten. That was in the mid 70’s and the book was a library borrowed “The Church and the Second Sex”. By the time “Beyond God the Father” came out, I also liked that book and it related to my own growth as a feminist. I work with men- have been in male dominated fields all my life so I do not have the luxury if you will of living as Dr. Daly might have wished but I do know this!! Were it not for her – probably the principal feminist theologan and philosopher of her time – my own life and those of many other women might never have been the same. I agreed with her notion that the ultimate reality (God) is an intransitive verb and not an anthropomorphic noun though some still refer to a “person”. Today I heard a scholar say he will be starting a Dept of Secular Studies!

    While prepareing a paper as that young student, I actually wrote Mary Daly and much to my surprise, she responded – not her EA, not some form letter but she took the time to weite to some young teenager who was seeking advice about her writing. Not many profs do that now. She was one of a kind and I will enjoy be-ing forever thanks to Mary!! RIP Mary!! I will miss you! We all will! (I am irked by needless negative remarks especially when someone is dead. Please show some courtesy even if you disagree. I am unsure if I concurred with everything in the last book, I do work gladly with men for example and think men can be feminists but we do need more feminist philosophers who help keep the backlash that is here from getting worse!

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