Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

Ursuline; New Orleans; nuns; women; Native Americans; slavery


This thesis focuses on the agency of the Ursulines in French New Orleans from 1727 to 1732. It analyzes the letters of Marie Hachard and several other documents from the Ursuline archives and places them within the context of French colonial New Orleans. The Ursulines’ establishment in Louisiana and their missionary efforts were situated in a larger colonial context of violent conflict between the French and the native populations, the colonists’ endless struggles to develop an economy and secure funds to survive, and the slow evolution of official systems of power. The Ursulines’ decisions to leave their homes for the appeal of the New World missionary endeavor, redefine their New Orleans mission to adapt to the happenings of the community outside of their convent, and their commitment to various social services exposed their desire to achieve the same level of religious achievement of those famous missionaries before them. Despite the limitations of the patriarchal structure of the early modern Church, the Ursulines of New Orleans worked within the confines of their status in early modern European society to progress their desire to engage in the male-dominated field of missionary work. The combination of the Ursulines’ unique status as women religious and the untamed colonial context of New Orleans made their exceptional act of feminine religious agency possible. The Ursulines seized an opportunity for improvement just like their fellow male colonists, and in doing so, they expanded the categories of acceptable work for women religious.

Lay Summary

In 1727, a group of twelve Ursulines from northern France ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to start the first Ursuline convent in the French colonial capital of Louisiana, New Orleans. Letters and other written documents from this first group of women reveal that the Ursulines used the new opportunities made available to them in America to advance their status in the eyes of society and their religious community. This group of women made their own decisions about their survival and the order’s future in the colony that resulted in long-lasting impacts on New Orleans.