Author (Your Name)

Gregory Cronin, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. American Studies Program


Peter Moss


In July, 1834 the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown became a target for the anti-Catholic sentiments which were so deeply embedded in the minds of many Protestant Americans. This Catholic Convent had been established in 1818 by the Ursuline sisters, It was majestically situated on the top of Mount Benedict, from where all of Boston was clearly visible. Rumors had been circulatling about the conduct within the Convent for many years; stories of barbarities practiced on the nuns, of dying men cruelly treated, of astonishing immoralities with which it was infested, and of a Catholic collaboration between Mother Superior and Bishop Fenwick to take over the city of Boston. It did not matter that these stories were false. The people of Boston were so incredibIy anti-Catholic that they believed any faIsehoods. When Rebecca Theresa Reed published a book, The Nun, about tales of her life in the Ursuline Convent, the people of Charlestown were immediately alarmed. Rebecca Reed had been a vagabond in the streets of Boston. She was alledgedly a thief and a beggar. In the summer or 1833 she was admitted into the Ursuline Convent by Mother Superior. She was given a menial position in the sisterhood as a maid. In return for her services, the Convent supplied her with room and board. Without such charity, Rebecca Reed might well have perished from hunger in the streets of Boston. In July of 1834, her services were no longer needed. The reasons for her dismissal were not clear. It was generally believed among sources close to the Convent that she was guilty of improprieties. However these improprieties were never disclosed to the public. Poor and homeless, Rebecca Reed was contacted by a publisher in Boston. He encouraged her to write about her experience in the Convent on Mount Benedict. She provided Bostonians with a tale that fully satisfied thetr beliefs in the ridiculous rumors that surrounded the unsuspecting Convent. She argued that she was a sister who was lucky enough to escape from the miserable confines of such a malicious institution. Her tales of abortions, beatings and kidnappings greatly increased popular Interest.


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Anti-Catholicism -- Massachusetts -- Somerville, Ursuline Convent (Charlestown, Boston, Mass.) -- Riot, 1834