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The Role 

of the 



Admittedly, the role of a minister's wife is 
a difficult one. Numerous books and articles 
have advised her what to do and be, but no 
one seems to have taken the time to deter- 
mine how she feels about such counsel or 
what its impact is upon her own mental 
health. In some respects her role is similar 
to that of the wife of any other professional 
or business man; in some respects it is very 

After sketching the role of the minister's 
wife in Biblical times, during the Protestant 
Reformation, and in frontier America, Dr. 
Denton turns to the present-day minister's 
wife and considers her particular situation 
with its various opportunities and problems. 
To what extent should she participate in her 
husband's work? Must she be resigned to a 
" fish bowl " existence? How can she fortify 
herself against loneliness? How can she 
maintain the privacy of her home? How 
much is she obliged to entertain? What is 
the nature of her relationship to the church 
and the community? 

Much literature on the subject is either un- 
realistic or idealistic. This book, which is 
an extremely interesting psychological and 
sociological study, is the fruit of field work 
and research personal interviews, counsel- 

(Continued on back flap) 

20-0381 $350 


253.2 Mil 


of the minister's If* 

The Role of the Minister's Wife 

The Role 
of the 
Minister's Wife 




All rights reserv-ed no part of this book may 
be reproduced in any form without permission 
in writing from the publisher, except by a re- 
viewer who wishes to quote brief passages in 
connection with a review in magazine or 

Scripture quotations from the Revised Stand- 
ard Version of the Bible are copyright, 1946 
and 1952, by the Division of Christian Educa- 
tion of the National Council of Churches, and 
are used by permission. 



To my family 

Wayne and Susan 


Acknowledgments 9 

Introduction 11 

Chapter I. 

A Historical Look at the Minister's Wife 17 
The Minister's Wife in the Biblical Record 17 
The Ministers Wife in the Protestant Ref- 
ormation 20 
The Minister's Wife in Frontier America 24 

Chapter II. 

A Contemporary Look at the Minister's Wife 26 
An Analysis of the Literature Pertaining to 

the Minister's Wife 26 

A Comparative Analysis with the Wives of 

Other Business and Professional Men 34 

Chapter III. 

Role Attitudes Toward Her Husband's Work 43 

Attitudes Toward Participation 43 

Attitudes Toward Some Specific Problems 55 

Summary and Conclusions 86 

Chapter IV. 

Role Attitudes Toward Her Family Life 91 

Attitudes Toward Husband-Wife Rela- 
tionships 91 


Attitudes Toward Life in the Parsonage 101 

Summary and Conclusions 1 14 



Role Attitudes Toward Her Church and Com- 
munity 117 
The Nature of the Relationship with the 

Church and Community 117 


Aspects of Life in the Church and Com- 
munity 121 
Summary and Conclusions 136 

Chapter VI. 

Considerations for Further Thought 140 

Propositions for Further Consideration 140 

Types of Ministers' Wives 154 

Summary 159 

Questionnaire for Ministers Wives 160 

Notes 171 



numerous as the tributaries of the Mississippi, However, 
special recognition is due those who have made direct con- 
tributions: to Dr. Wayne E. Gates, of the Southern Baptist 
Theological Seminary, who first challenged and guided my 
interest in pastoral care and who originally suggested this 
study; to Dr. Aaron Rutledge, of the Merrill-Palmer Insti- 
tute in Detroit, who helped me develop and sharpen skills 
in counseling; to Drs. Ernest Osbome and Mark Flapan, of 
Teachers College, Columbia University, and Dr. Frank 
Herriott, of Union Theological Seminary in New York 
City, who served as members of my dissertational com- 
mittee when the basic research upon which this book is 
based was being conducted at Columbia University; to the 
ministers* wives who made it all possible by so coura- 
geously providing me access to the inner sanctuaries of 
their minds; and to Mrs. Carlene Sanders and Miss Edith 
Newell, who typed the manuscript. It is customary for an 
author to acknowledge the contribution of his wife. In my 
case this is more than a formality. She has participated in 
the travail of giving birth to this project since it was first 
conceived as a nebulous idea in 1957. Her encouragement 
has made the discouragement bearable, and her sugges- 
tions enriched the final result. TTT ^ 

W. D. 


EVERYBODY is concerned these days with studies on 
the minister/* remarked a leading theologian. ** I think 
it is about time someone did some research on the min- 
ister's wife! * Here was a challenge. Out of this chance re- 
mark came die initial impetus for the primary research 
upon which this volume is based. 

This book is about the minister's wife. Not .any wife, but 
a woman married to a man who is a minister, a fact that 
the wives believe makes a significant difference. The book 
does not propose to serve as a manual of etiquette instruct- 
ing a wife how to dress, answer the telephone, or entertain 
church officials. Several have already undertaken to do 
this. It does propose to survey some of the things that she 
perceives her church, community, and family expect of 
her. Even more important, it is concerned with howjshe 
feels about these expectatioSTTESTS^numerous book 
an3 articles have advised her what to do and be, but no 
one seems to have taken time to determine how she feels 
about such counsel, or what its impact is upon her own 
mental health. 

One of the assumptions underlying this book is that the 


role of other business and professional men's wives. (What 



lawyer's wife is to be versed in, law, or physician's 

wife in medicine, as the minister's wife is expected to 
know religion and theology?) It also moves on the as- 

O <v3> 

sumption that before she is a minister's wife, she is a mem- 
ber of die race, and a woman. As such, she is sub- 
ject to the joys sorrows, the securities and insecurities, 
the needs and anxieties., to which all mankind is heir. 
Therefore, an attempt will be made to view and under- 
stand her through those disciplines which shed light upon 
human behavior: sociology, psychology, anthropology, and 

While the role of the minister's wife is unique in some 
respects, it is also similar to that o other wives. Conse- 
quently, brief note will be made of the similarities between 
the role of the minister's wife' and of the wives of other 
professional and business men. A study of the wife of a 
minister will take on fuller significance when seen in the 
context of her larger existence. In order to aid in this un- 
derstanding of her, sketches will be made of her in broad 
strokes to show her historical background. With the added 
dimension afforded by this context,, the succeeding chap- 
ters will note and evaluate responses of the wives included 
in this study. 

Though concerned with the minister's wife, it should be 
noted that this is basically a sociopsychological rather than 
a theological study. Nonetheless, it does have theological 
implications. Jesus and the prophets demonstrated that 
good theology must inevitably come to grips with the 
problems of life with which sociology, psychology, and 
other behavioral sciences grapple. Conversely, a more pro- 
found sociology and psychology cannot evade confronting 
the problems of human existence to which theology has 
long addressed itself. Thus the lines of demarcation be- 


the disciplines are at vague and overlapping. 

A survey of the literature on ministers* wives reveals 
practically all of it is on the personal experience 

or the casual observations of the writers, who are usually 
themselves wives of ministers. At the time of this writing, 
has been little or no empirical research on the sub- 
ject. The data upon which book is based are primarily 
drawn from four sources. The irst source is a carefully 
conducted study carried out under the supervision of a 
committee of specialists in research and the social sciences 
as a part of a doctoral program at Columbia University. 
In this initial research, thirty wives, chosen as a random 
sampling, were intensively interviewed. An interview 
schedule was used that had been devised on the basis of a 
pilot study involving wives of ministers from various parts 
of the United States. The second source is a series of semi- 
nars conducted for the wives of pastors from several de- 
nominations in which their attitudes about being ministers* 
wives were explored. The third source is the wives of min- 
isters with whom I have counseled in recent years. The 
majority of the wives in these last two sources are from the 
Midwest, a region that is sometimes considered rather 
" typical " of our society. 

Each of the above sources involves face-to-face^inter-^ 
view situations.. An interview has several advantages over 
a questionnaire. Among these are the freedom to explore 
various ramifications not included on a iked questionnaire, 
to ask for clarifications, and the chance to catch the subtle 
nuances of expression, gesture, and voice inflection. All of 
these combine to provide a deeper, more complete picture 
of a person. The wives who came for personal counseling 
added an even deeper dimension. Tlrrough a series of 
counseling sessions it is possible to determine more care- 


fully what are the of intense conflict satis- 

faction. Furthermore, one lias the opportunity to assess to 
what an extent the and understanding of their 

role and growth to such persons. 

One of the major of a questionnaire over an 

interview is that a number of persons from wider 

geographic regions can be easily Included in the study. Be- 
cause of this, an extensive questionnaire was used at a na- 
tionwide conference of pastors" wives and the results were 
incorporated In this volume as the fourth data source. In 
any case, there are no fictitious wives included here. Each 
one is quite real. At times certain facts are disguised to 
protect a person's identity. Remarks quoted from conver- 
sations are all as near verbatim as notes made during a 
contact would permit 

Like all human endeavors, this venture on the role of the 
minister's wife has Its limitations. (In fact, some people 
might question whether or not it is possible to speak of a 
composite "minister's wife.' 7 ) One of these limitations has 
to do with the number of participants Included in the 
study. A larger sample would doubtless make further con- 
tributions. At least most researchers feel more comfortable 
with large numbers. However, in dealing with a homo- 
geneous group a smaller sample is satisfactory. As might 
be expected, there Is considerable homogeneity among 
these wives. This Is not to say that they are all carbon 
copies of some original. Individual variations exist. How- 
ever, in the early phases of my research certain patterns, 
ideas, feelings, and attitudes began to emerge and have 
continued to recur with great regularity in subsequent 
contacts. This study, as with others, is valid when consid- 
ered within its limitations. Lawrence Henderson's obser- 
vation Is pertinent at this point: 


In observational and experimental science we are concerned 
with probability, never with certainty, with approximations, 

never with absolute precision. Such scientific generalizations 
are thos to be regarded as valid only within the limits of our 
experience of time, place, temperature, pressure., social struc- 
ture., and so forth. (** Procedure in a Science,** Human Rela- 
tions, Hugh Cabot and Joseph Kahl, editors. Vol. I, p. 25. Har- 
vard University Press, 1953.) 

The purpose of this book is simple. It is to aid ijiose 
women who are married to, or engaged to, ministers to bet- 
ter understand and prepare for their important roles. It is 
not to be considered a self-help book, nor does it propose 
to say the final word on the subject. It is not attempting 
to prove anything. It is hoped that these pages will contain 
new ideas for thought and discussion material for those 
wives who are eager to take a closer look at the unique 
role of the modem minister's wife. 

Chapter I 

A Historical Look 
at the Minister's Wife 

JjlEW may realize it, but a bare three hundred and fifty 
JL years ago this book would have been directed to a seg- 
ment of the population in England that had no legal ex- 
istence; that is, it was not until 1804 under the reign of 
James I that the matter of a married clergy received state 
recognition. To be sure, ministers had married before that 
time, though sometimes at a risk to their own lives. All of 
this is to say that the minister's wife has a most interesting 
history. She can better understand her present status by a 
clearer understanding of her past. This chapter is devoted 
to that end. 


One seeking a picture of the minister's wife in the Bible 
is likely to be disappointed. Only a few brief references 
are made to her. That she existed, however, is hardly con- 
testable. Both Matthew and Luke refer to the moAer^m : 
Jaw^ _Peter su who was ill with a fever (Matt. 8:14; Luke 
4:38). Again, Paul is rather careful to note that although 
he did not have a wife to escort him on his journeys, he 
had as much right to have one as did the other apostles, 
the brothers of Jesus, and Peter (I Cor, 9:5). Paul, in writ- 



ing to Timothy, asserts the minister is to be " the hus- 
of one wife " (I Tim. 3:2), BO qualifications 

of the minister's wife are given, Paul does say that the 
wives of deacons are to " be grave, not slanderers, sober, 
and in all " (1 Tim. 3:11). 

Undoubtedly, one reason for die paucity of Biblical ref- 
erences to the'minister's wife is the fact that at this early 
period the ministry had not become ** professionalized "; 
that is, the religious leadership of the New Testament 
church was essentially a lay leadership. The concept of a 
clearly defined ministry in which a dichotomy was made 
between the layman and clergyman evolved subsequent 
to New Testament times. Therefore, one seeking a picture 
of the minister's wife must look to references in the Bible 
to wives in general. The same expectations would also ap- 
ply to the pastor's wife of their time. This was before the 
day of a double standard, with one for the minister's wife 
and another for the layman's wife. 

To be properly understood, the Biblical wife must be 
seen against the ancient agrarian Middle Eastern back- 
ground, A beautiful, poetic description of this wife is given 
in Prov. 31:10-29. The Biblical wife was domestic. As Paul 
phrased it later, she ** guides the house" (I Tim. 5:14), 
Her primary sense of fulfillment was achieved within the 
home, nurturing her children, spinning, weaving, and car- 
ing for her husband. Her rewards were to see her husband 
honored and esteemed within the community, and observe 
her children grow into adulthood as godly citizens, marry, 
and have children. In all of this she knew she had played 
a vitally important role. With reference to her husband, 
she was a helpmate. The relationship between them was 
characterized by love, trust, and a mutual recognition that 
they both stood responsibly related to a loving God. 


Furthermore, it was a relationship in which the husband 
was 'the head of the house. Thus, Paul admonished young 

wives to " be sober, to love their husbands, to love their 
children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, 
obedient to their own husbands" (Titus 2:4-5). At this 
point Paul was giving voice to a custom, even then irmly 
rooted in ancient tradition. It was to persist centuries 
longer, down to the present day. Only within the past cen- 
tury or so has there been anv real indication that this basic 
j * 

patriarchal pattern of husband-wife relationship is chang- 
ing, though not without resistance. One indication of this 
change is the fact that few marriage ceremonies still in- 
clude the word " obey/* The nature of the emerging pat- 
tern is not yet clear, though some feel it is essentially a 
companionate relationship. 1 

Regardless of the problem presented to the modem wife 
by the Biblical injunction to ce obey/" the church historian, 
Kenneth Scott Latourette, after reviewing the impact of 
Christianity upon the family, concludes that within the 
first few centuries it had elevated the status of women and 
given new worth to childhood. 2 

As noted earlier, it is evident that the early ministers 
married. It is also significant that voices began to be heard 
rather early, calling for a celibate clergy. Arguments were 
largely based upon Paul's teachings relevant to the merits 
of celibate living. 'That he was strongly biased in favor of 
the celibate life can hardly be contested when one reviews 
I Cor., ch. 7. Verses 1 and 7 of that chapter have become 
much quoted: "It is well for a man not to touch a 
woman. ... I wish that all were as I myself am." He 
urged the unmarried and widows to remain single. How- 
ever, he admitted that he had no command of the Lord, to 
this effect. This was only advice. He offered two reasons 


for The irst of was based OB what he 

was the of Christ, which would 

be by a of woe and distress (1 Cor. 7:29). 

In, a of upheaval, all institutions and re- 

be for dissolution; therefore,, 

or on would be wasted. His sec- 

ond is to the first, for lie argues that the un- 

married state freedom from earthly cares and 

As he phrased it: 

The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, 
how to the Lord; but the married man is anxious about 

worldly aifalrs, how to please his wife, and Ms interests are 
divided. ... 1 say this for your own benefit, not to lay any 
restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure 
your undivided devotion to the Lord. (I Cor. 7:32-35.) 

His arguments for celibacy, then, were essentially these: 
die return of Christ is imminent, and too much, work is yet 
to be done for man or woman to be encumbered with a 
mate* Such reasoning had nothing to do with sin and sex, 
as is sometimes assumed. 


It is not until the Protestant Reformation that the min- 
ister's wife is seen with clarity. Even then she has been de- 
scribed as a * shadowy igure as she first emerges among 
the dust of old controversies and the smoke of battles long 
ago." 3 As will be seen, the smoke of .these battles was to 
surround her for decades to follow. Nonetheless, her ap- 
pearance on the scene was refreshing, for it imparted a 
certain dignity to the pastor's residence, a residence long 
enshrouded by illicit relationships with mistresses and il- 
legitimate children. Latotorette asserts that a married 


clergy brought a distinct change in family life in the West- 
ern world gave new dignity and honor to woman's 
role as a wife. 4 

credits Martin Luther with founding the Prot- 
estant parsonage, though somewhat unwittingly, for it had 
not been in his plans. Marriage of the clergy was a natural 
consequence of Luther's position; however, upon first 
learning that some nuns and had left the cloisters 

to many, he is said to have exclaimed: ** Good heavens! 
They won't give me a wife." 5 But when a nun, having 
evangelical convictions, sought his counsel, Luther took it 
upon himself to arrange her escape, along with eleven of 
her sister nuns. Arrangements' for the escape were made 
with an elderly fish merchant who regularly delivered her- 
ring to the convent. In the spring of 1523 twelve nuns 
were concealed in fish barrels and taken out in the wagon, 
a daring act on the part of both die fish merchant and 
Luther, since such was a capital offense. Luther then be- 
came something of an employment and marriage broker, 
arranging for either work or marriage for the escapees. 
More than a year later three nuns were yet on hand and 
still unmarried. By this time friends were joking about his 
marrying one, but he held firmly to his estate of bachelor- 
hood. Finally only Kathy Von Bora remained, who one 
day half jokingly proposed marriage to Luther. Still he 
was uninterested, until he mentioned the incident to his 
father, who took it quite seriously and immediately urged 
him, to marry her. Thus ? when he was forty-two and she 
in her late twenties., Luther married Kathy Von Bora, 
whom he frequently referred to as his " rib." 6 Later, com- 
menting upon adjustments to be made in marriage, he 
said: "There is a lot to get used to the first year of mar- 
riage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pig- 


OB, the which were not there before." 7 

Marriage is honorable, Luther thought, not only for the 

but for the clergyman as well. " The principle of 
marriage/* he asserted, " runs through all creation, and die 
flowers, as well as animals, are male and female." 8 The 

doctrine of celibacv was branded by him as an invention 

j * 

of Satan. He felt it was incumbent upon men to protest in 
deed as well as word against the teaching. 9 There is, there- 
fore y a real sense in which his marriage was undertaken 
not only for personal reasons but also in vindication of his 
reformed convictions. 

The picture of this Irst Protestant minister's wife is that 
of a woman deeply devoted to her husband. She usually 
addressed him as " Doctor." 10 The Luther home was a 
veritable din of activity. Guests who came to talk with her 
renowned husband were an ever-present commodity, and 
he was always the center of attention. Her role at these 
times seems to have been something of a hostess (servants 
did much of the housework) who stood on the outer 
fringes of the circle, though this picture is probably not 
out of keeping with the practice of the day. There is no 
indication that she resented being overshadowed by her 
famous husband; she expected it. 11 

Bainton concludes his volume on Luther by paying this 
tribute to him: 

The influence of the man on his people was deepest in the 
home. In fact, the home was the only sphere of life which the 
Reformation profoundly affected. Economics went the way of 
capitalism and politics the way of absolutism, but the home 
took on that quality of affection and godly patriarchalism 
which Luther had set as the pattern of his own household. 12 

Though a child of the Reformation, the minister's wife 
was to experience many years of hardship and persecu- 


tion before she finally received her citizenship papers 
as a full-fledged, honorable member of society. Andre 
Maurois says that Mrs. Thomas Cranmer, wife of the first 
Archbishop of Canterbury, subsequent to the break with 
Rome, was forced to live in such retirement that she had 
to travel in a box with ventilating holes in the lid. 18 

Resistance to the minister's wife was stubborn, and legis- 
lative halls rang with enactments to prevent her existence. 
The English, in 1539, enacted the Act of Six Articles in an 
effort to deter the spread of reformed doctrines and to en- 
force celibacy of the clergy. Included among the rather 
severe penalties for doctrinal deviations provided by the 
Act was burning at the stake. Imprisonment, loss of prop- 
erty, or hanging were provided for those who dared break 
the vows of celibacy to take a wife. Yet, many of the more 
persistent clergymen did marry, though it appears that 
violations of the Act were not punished with tie ruthless- 
ness later to be experienced under Queen Mary. 

Under Edward VI, marriage of the clergy was recog- 
nized in the Act of Convocation in 1549. This recognition, 
however, was short-lived. Mary, a Catholic and daughter 
of Henry VIII and Catherine, had hardly ascended the 
throne before the Act was repealed, followed by fiery per- 
secution. Mary's short reign of five years witnessed so 
many beheadings and burnings that she earned for herself 
the title ** Bloody Mary." Among her more famous victims 
was Archbishop Thomas Cramner, who was burned at the 

During the reign of Elizabeth I, ecclesiastical law recog- 
nized a married clergy. However, the status of the min- 
ister's wife was never secure, since state recognition of a 
married clergy was not forthcoming. When James I (who 
commissioned the Authorized, or " King James/' Version 


of the the throne in 1603, the Puritans pre- 

sented him the millenary petition, so named because 
it was supposedly signed by a thousand persons. Among 
its was state recognition of the minister's wife. As 

at the beginning of this chapter, with the sign- 
ing of this document in 1604, the matter of a married 
clergy became a settled issue in England, 

Margaret Watt, who has done one of the most scholarly 
historical studies on the minister's wife, states that the var- 
ious records, annals, clerical biographies, and autobiog- 
raphies present a rather uniform picture of the minister's 
wife subsequent to the first stormy one hundred years of 
her existence. At least in England, it is the story of quiet 
lives lived in high standards of conduct and principles, dif- 
fering chiely in worldly circumstances and opportunity. 
For -the most part it. is the story of the eminent, of the suc- 
cessful, clergyman, for the ordinary clergyman neither 
wrote nor was written about. 14 


Knowledge of the minister's wife in frontier America is 
limited. What few brief glimpses we have of her are usu- 
ally found in biographies or autobiographies. Some at- 
tempt has been made to piece together the story of the 
frontier minister and his family but, as one historical so- 
ciety has noted, " The early clergy were too busy making 
history to devote much time to recording their deeds." l5 
The pattern of husband-wife relationships set forth in the 
Bible seems to have been perpetuated. The picture of the 
wife presented earlier from Prov. 31 was still largely ap- 
plicable. Her realm was the home beside her hearth, spin- 
ning wheel, loom, and children. Small bits of information 


gleaned from various sources, and put together like pieces 
of a Jigsaw puzzle, extend our knowledge of the frontier 
minister's wife. The frontier preacher frequently made his 
living as a teacher, storekeeper, or farmer. It was not un- 
common for the preacher-husband to leave for an extended 
period to move into some new territory to establish a 
church. During these periods the wife was left to tend the 
farm, store, or school, in addition to caring for the chil- 
dren, who frequently came by the dozen. It is also known 
that the frontier minister's wife sometimes taught school 
to maintain herself and family in the event of her hus- 
band's death. Like their preacher-husbands, these women 
were a hardy lot. Their most inspiring contributions to 
taming the frontier may never be written. Like their hus- 
bands, they were too busy making history to spend time 
recording their deeds. 

Someone has said that nothing is so persuasive as an 
idea whose time has come. The concept of the minister's 
wife "the clergyman's right to marry was one such idea, 
though a married clergy was only one aspect of the larger 
idea embodied in the Protestant Reformation. Eventually 
she was accepted as a full-fledged, legal member of the 
church family. She came to this country with these battles 
already won, though she faced new and different ones in 
an untamed country. Mrs. Granmer's traveling box, replete 
with ventilating holes, has long ceased to be a necessity; 
however., one occasionally gets the impression that the 
high expectations placed upon the modern minister's wife 
stffl cramps her style, much like the traveling box. 

Chapter II 

A Contemporary Look 
at the Minister's Wife 

BY REVIEWING the literature on the minister's wife, 
one gets a composite picture of the " model " wife as 
our contemporary society sees her. This model picture is 
important to understand, because frequently what these 
wives say is a 'direct reaction to what the literature has de- 
picted. Against this backdrop of literature reviewed, we 
can later view the attitudes of some ministers* wives as in- 
dividuals and get the depth dimension into this picture. 


Until the latter half of the nineteenth century little was 
written specifically for or about the minister's wife. How- 
ever, a change is to be noted immediately prior to the turn 
of the century, when several books were published. The 
oldest volume for the minister's wife that I have located 
was written in 1884 by Margaret Oliphant, entitled simply 
The Ministers Wife. In 1898 three books appeared: The 
Minister's Wife: A Story, by J. K. Ludlum; The Ministers 
Wife, and Other Stories, by Mrs. James Sadlier; and 
Things a Pastors Wife Can Do, By One of Them, pub- 
lished anonymously. The reasons underlying the concern 



with the minister's wife during period are not clear. 
Possibly the is a reflection of die move- 

ment of the day. 

Few other books on. the minister's wife be- 

tween and 1940. Since 1940 several books have 

written. The majority of may be classified as self- 

books. That is, they counsel the wife on the perform- 
ance of certain aspects of her role. 

The literature on the minister's wife can generally be di- 
vided into five categories: (1) self-help works,, (2) auto- 
biography, (3) biography, (4) fiction, and (5) general 
works. The first four of these present a rather consistent 
picture of her. However, for the most part it is a stereo- 
typed picture. As such, it is one that is frequently super- 
ficial and possibly misleading as to what the wife of a pas- 
tor is realy like. To be sure, these must meet the needs of 
many wives. These self-help books might well be de- 
scribed as " how to do it " literature. In an age of con- 
fusion and uncertainty scores of "how to" books have 
rolled off the presses on a host of topics. The minister's 
wife, too, has been confused and uncertain in the perform- 
ance of her role, and any book promising ** how to do it " 
has been welcomed. 

Without seeming to be too negativistic, the less desir- 
able aspects of the literature for the ministers wife can be 
described in terms of its unrealistic .and idealistic charac- 

Unrealistic Literature 

The literature on the minister's wife is partly unrealistic 
because it has romanticized many of her experiences. This 
tends to give undue emphasis and glamour to some aspects 
of her life. She is pictured as moving from one glorious 


to The with leaks, the horse 

buggy, parsonages, poor salaries, cantan- 

mischievous children, and gossipy 
all wonderfully exciting. This is not all 

bad. other tilings, it probably represents a healthy 

OB the part of the wives to look at unhappy situa- 
tions and see the lighter side. Certainly such conditions do 
exist, but the minister's family has no monopoly on them. 
The end result, however, is to convey the idea that this is 
essentially what the life of a pastor's wife is like. While her 
life has its exciting and dramatic moments, the wives with 
whom I have talked were quick to say that there fkinueh 
of the doll, drab, and routine that is simply not very in- 
teresting conversational material. 

Another aspect of the unrealism in the literature is its 
dramatization. The routine and tragic alike take on dra- 
matic proportions when reinterpreted by the pen of some 
writers. Admittedly, this makes more interesting reading. 
One minister's wife told me of writing the editor of one of 
her church's magazines protesting the picture of the min- 
ister's family depicted in a serial written by the wife of a 
minister. " The wife is too good, too nice, too sweet/* she 
protested to the editor. ** Ministers and their families sim- 
ply aren't that way/* To this the editor replied, ec We know 
it, but it makes interesting reading! " C. T. Ganriott, com- 
menting on the novelists' portrayal of the minister's wife, 
her husband and family, and on church life in general, con- 
cluded that they are skilled in constructing plots, inverting 
characters and conversations, but their finished product 
has little to do with real life. 1 

A further aspect of this unrealism is that there seems to 
be a tendency to set the minister's wife over against the 
congregation. She is presented as a shining example who 


the of 

of cultural tastes. She .is to the 

invasions by She the of a rhi- 

noceros to off the of criticism, the of 

Job to contend with the who violate the 

privacy of her home, the of a juggler to 

the feuding factions in the with whom she works, 

In his analysis of recent fiction about the minister^ 
Garriott concludes that both the minister and Ms wife are 
misrepresented. He states that she is presented as. a con- 
stant source of friction in the church. Kathie Wingo in The 
Gauntlet refused to be called ** Katherine " by the more 
sedate sisters of the congregation, and Alexa Laurens ( The 
Bishop's Mantle) struggles through several hundred pages 
before she is ready to give up her <c good times s> and be- 
come a mature woman. Caroline Phillips, lady of the 
manse in No Trumpet Before Him, solves her problem by 
sad resignation to her fate, while Kathie solves hers by 
dying, and Alexa hers by deciding to have a baby. 'This 
setting of the minister and his family against the congrega- 
tion is further fostered by depicting the minister as a gal- 
lant, dashing knight on a white steed contesting against 
the stiff-necked congregation. " The reader/" Garriott says, 
"is led to believe that the churches are stagnant pits 
where neurotic women and hypocritical men scream and 
squirm." 2 

One of the main points in which the nonfiction literature 
appears to be unrealistic is in its concept of the minister's 
wife as a person. It is with difficulty that one is able to see 
her as an individual. She appears to be playing a character 
in which the script for the role has been written by tra- 
dition. Some variations on the theme are permissible., but 
they are to be minor ones. She is forced to follow a pre- 


of as a train does, and does not 

have even the of an automobile." She is 

to be and conservative In appearance at all times. 

(One wife reportedly always wore a nice dress under her 
work dress so the top one could be slipped off in a 
moment when someone knocked, and she would be pre- 
sentable.) She keeps her house neat, because people are 
always coming in; she is the gracious hostess; she helps 
her husband; she does odd jobs in the church, and a host 
of other things. One gets the impression of a role circum- 
scribed 00 ail sides by rigid expectations that effectively 
prescribe her public and private life. Seldom under the 
load of these expectations does one get a glimpse of the 
minister's wife as a person who might happen to have a 
few ideas of her own. 

An astute observer of some sociological aspects of the 
current theological scene was the late Halford Luccock, 
who wrote regularly under the pseudonym Simeon Stylites 
in The Christian Century, Stylites, in his usual poignant 
and humorous style, noted in one article that there is a 
new look in ministers' wives. 3 He believed that the old-type 
preacher's wife is rapidly becoming passe., though her tribe 
is not yet extinct. Possibly it is to this remnant that the 
* how to do it " books make the greatest appeal. This old- 
type wife, he believed, is characterized by three traits, all 
of which are to be found in the " how to do it " books, 

First, she is the solemn saint. This is not to depreciate 
saintliness, but this virtue, like others, can become counter- 
feited and thus perverted. One aspect of this type of saint- 
liness is that it is self-conscious. Such righteousness em- 
anates from conscious efforts to be righteous, not from the 
fact that persons live this way simply because it expresses 
what they really are at heart. Therefore, they become " pro- 


fessional saints." This wife is typified by the one who said 
she always had to remind herself to be very careful 
working in the yard or at the supermarket to 

make sure that she set a example. A glance at the 

literature finds the wife being exhorted to be a living 
example, meek, humble, and a woman of prayer. Again, 
this is not to decry living on a religious., ethical, and 

moral level. It is to decry the kind of superficial righteous- 
ness that this might appear to indicate, a righteousness 
grounded in community expectations rather than inner 

Stylites wrote that the second type is the wifely pastor's 
assistant. This wife does everything from teaching Sunday 
school and mimeographing the weekly bulletin to speaking 
in her husband's absence and doing Janitorial work. He 
said that congregations liked this type the Giant Econ- 
omy Size because they got two workers for one salary. 
The literature portrays her as performing a multitude of 
functions in the church, and many wives do, but there is 
strong reason to believe that this ** two for the price of 
one " type of wife is fading from the scene. 

The third type of wife comes as the protecting-mother 
model. This wif e, thought Stylites, is the " put your rubbers 
on " type. She is given to protecting her Beloved from in- 
trusions from the congregation, and sheltering him from 
undue exertion and distractions. This mothering type is 
seen when one writer, in describing a scene from One Foot 
in Heaven, says of the ministers wife, Mrs. Spence, " She 
has several children; but perhaps her greatest child is her 
husband." 4 Stylites concluded by observing: 

There is a new freedom for the minister's wife to revolt from 
becoming a type and to become an individual The old model, 
so widely produced, where the poor girl was a slave to a pre- 


conceived of what a preacher's wife ought to be, Is being 

rapidly retired. She used to be shown one model and told that 
she conform or else. Lincoln freed the slaves, and 

good sense are bringing freedom to the preacher's 
wife to be herself . 5 


The literature on ministers* wives is characterized by a 
second feature. It is idealistic. The composite picture of her 
depicts a woman who is the very epitome of all that is 
gracious, tactful, lovely, righteous, pleasant, and friendly. 
She is a skilled financier who does wonders with her hus- 
band's limited salary, an understanding counselor to those 
seeldng her help, a gracious hostess to those accepting the 
hospitality of her home, her husband's right arm when 
needed, and possessing the finesse of a diplomat in han- 
dling interpersonal problems both at home and in the 

Ideals are needed and possibly idealism is warranted at 
times, but an idealistic system must be recognized for what 
it is an ideal and cognizance must be taken of the fact 
that no one fulfils the ideal at all points. In fact, most 
wives would probably agree that the characteristics of 
the ideal minister's wife listed in some of the literature are 
much to be desired. Furthermore, it may be reasonable to 
expect a wife to fulfill the highest expectations in some 
areas, but unreasonable to expect this in all areas. With 
the apostle Paul, one is made to ask, " Who is sufficient for 
these things?" However, the attitude seems to be com- 
municated to the reader that the good minister's wife pos- 
sesses all these characteristics. Little attention is devoted 
to recognizing that few, if any, fulfill the ideal at all points, 
One wife worded it this way; " To ine it would be quite 
comforting to find in the books [on the minister^ wife] 


some indicatioii we too are are not in 

competition with the angels." Unfortunately, such recog- 
nition is seldom made. 

Interestingly, the preponderance of literature on the 
minister's wife is written by the wives themselves. Thus* 
it appears that they are largely responsible for perpetuat- 
ing this idealistic and unrealistic concept of their role. 
However, some of the newer columns and articles on the 
pastor's wife seem to present a much healthier and realis- 
tic point of view. One such column appears regularly in 
the New Christian Advocate under the tide "For Mrs. 

Literature Preoccupied with Role Expectations 

The literature on the ministers wife is preoccupied with 
role expectations. Role expectations, according to The- 
odore Sarbin, are comprised of two aspects. First, there 
are those expectations which others have of the respond- 
ent. These are the responsibilities of the role. Secondly, 
there are those expectations which the respondent has of 
those playing reciprocal roles., the rights of a role. 6 Accord- 
ing to this definition of role expectations, the literature on 
the minister's wife is concerned almost exclusively with her 
responsibilities, and does not consider her rights. (An ex- 
ception is Golda Bader's I Married a Minister y in which 
two chapters deal with her privileges and opportunities.) 
The mood-set in the literature is generally hortatory. The 
imperatives " should/* " must," and * ought " occur time 
and again. 

The self-help books that comprise most of those written 
for the minister's wife are in essence books of etiquette. 
They are codifications of her role. The social psychologist, 
S. Stansfeld Sargent, notes that each culture has different 


types of roles, some of which are codified in a magazine 

Ike Godeys Lady's Book or in books of etiquette. 7 It 
appears die books on the minister's wife fall into this 
category. She is instructed how to conduct herself, how to 
dress, what to say, and where to shop. 

Much of what is written in these books on the role of the 
minister's wife is superficial to the point of being humor- 
ous. In case her lag is worn out, she is carefully advised 
how to dispose of it. To aid in getting her work done, one 
writer suggests such a complicated schedule that only a 
compulsive scheduler would take time to use it, and this 
person probably would not need it anyway. Another ad- 
vises wives to do their hair and nails at home to avoid the 
gossip of the beauty parlor. It would seem that the min- 
ister's wife who takes seriously all these expectations, 
and/or who has high expectations of herself, not only will 
be frustrated at her inability to_ achieve all of them, but 
aEon2gEFIid"'some of the expectations conflicting. 

In concluding this section on the literature, it is felt 
that although books and articles such as some of those 
cited here probably serve a purpose, they also may be 
damaging, particularly to the girl anticipating marriage 
to a minister who reads these to gain some insight and 
help for her new role. One young wife told me after she 
had read one of these books: "I was scared to death. It 
confirmed aE the fears I had ever had. I would never rec- 
ommend it to a young girl to read/* 


An interesting contemporary social phenomenon is noted 
when one glances through the various indexes to periodical 


literature. the of World War 

II, articles denoting the of the wife in her hus- 

band's work to Prior to the war, recog- 

nition was of importance in her husband's 

success or failure. The intervening years have a multi- 
tude of on the superintendent's wife, the 
schoolteacher's wife, the city manager's wife, the wives of 
governmental officials, and the wives of corporation ex- 
ecutives. One of the most interesting studies relevant to 
any of these wives was conducted by William Whyte, Jr., 
in 1951 on the corporation executive's wife. 8 ( Of the pro- 
fessions of medicine, law, and theology, more has been 
written about the minister's wife than about the other two 
combined. Four books on the doctor's wife were located, 
and none on the lawyer's 'wife. ) 

Whyte's study indicated that some corporations now 
consider their executives* wives almost as important as the 
executives themselves. One company estimated that ap- 
proximately 20 per cent of its otherwise acceptable trainee 
applicants for executive posts were turned down because 
of their wives. 9 Wives are now regularly interviewed by 
many companies along with their husbands. Since the 
validity of one interview is sometimes questioned, one in- 
surance company looks into the wife's credit rating and 
her popularity in the community as a double check. 10 Nat- 
urally, this concern with the wife is a financial one so far 
as the companies are concerned. As one executive put it: 

We control a man's environment in business, and we lose it 
entirely when he crosses the threshold of his home. Manage- 
ment, therefore, has a challenge and an obligation to deliber- 
ately plan and create a favorable, constructive attitude on the 
part of the wife that will liberate her husband's total energies 
for the job. 11 


are to IB control 

over their executives. Many are now extending 

the by various types of " wife 

programs." The Revlon Products Corporation, 
others, lias instituted a of Wives* Clinics to aid the 

in understanding and her husband in Ms 

work. 12 

The interesting, and sometimes disturbing, aspect about 
this domination on the part of the corporations is that the 
wives apparently enjoy and prefer this type of living. The 
pressures to conform are strong, and this new generation 
frankly admits to conforming. They are other-directed, to 
use Riesman's concept, for they are verbalizing a philos- 
ophy that tells them it is right to be that way. 13 They sup- 
port their view by pointing to the growing emphasis on 
group dynamics, human relations, and industrial psychol- 
ogy. The nonconformist is ostracized and/or not promoted. 
" Conformity, 3 * one review states, " is being elevated into 
something akin to religion." 14 Whyte's later study, The 
Organization Man y indicates ti^at the attitude of the com- 
pany toward its employees is benevolent and communi- 
cates to its " family " that it is concerned with their good, 
but like many parents, it decides what is good for them. 15 
A disturbing factor to many social scientists is that the 
" organization man " is content with this situation. 

The ideal corporation wife is 

(1) highly adaptable, 

(2) highly gregarious, and 

(3) realizes that her husband belongs to the corpora- 

As will be seen, these qualities typify the ideal wife in 
other fields as well. Helen Mosher describes the ideal 
school administrator's wife by asking ten questions: 

A AT 37 

1. Can you be to everyone, too (" If 

osfc foo to be true. 99 ) 

2. yon a but not 
your ("AH is in 


3. Do you an active in community as 
a working committee a leader? ("But 
Ti}e of Supper. 
Why she over? **) 

4. Are your clothes suitable and attractive, but not so 
glamorous that other women are jealous? ("I could 
look way too, if you his salary) 

5. Can you entertain graciously and gracefully, without 
splurging? ("She was frying to us y 

I know she bought that cake! 7 ) 

6. Are you "seen" at the school athletic and social 
events, but not conspicuously? ("How come she sits 
in the front row? ") 

7. Do you have a keen sense of humor? Youll need it, 
but don't top the board president's jokes. (" She's all 
right, I guess, if you like them brainy! 9 ) 

8. Can you answer the telephone for the nineteenth time 
with a lilt in your voice, while the meat sticks and your 
nine-year-old^ gang plays catch in the living room? 
("What's the matter with her? After all, I'm a tax- 

9. Do you keep all achievements of the past locked in 
silence, like skeletons in a closet? (" What if she did 
play the lead in the college play? That mas years ago. 
And my Elizabeth is made for that part in the Fire- 

' man's Fr&lic" ) 

10. Can you play your part with all the charm you can 
muster, but not take yourself seriously? ("Who does 
she think she is, anyway? " ) 16 


Simply by replacing a few words, sucli as "school 
board " with " corporation board " or " board of deacons/ 3 
this description, of the ideal wife is equally applicable to 
the wives of other public figures. This to indicate 

a converging of the expectations of the Idea! wife regard- 
of her husband's position. Possibly this in some sense 
denotes an Increasing homogeneity in business, educa- 
tional, and church circles. That is, this may reflect a level- 
ing of the psychological, sociological, and moral bases from 
which these fields operate. 

A closer comparative analysis of the wives of business 
and professional men with the minister's wife indicates 
that their role expectations and role satisfactions are sim- 
ilar at several points. 

No leadership roles. They are not expected to take 
leadership roles that Involve holding office. While this 
prohibition does not seem to be placed as much on execu- 
tives' wives. It appears to be widely accepted in other 
circles. As noted in the above expectations of the school 
executive's wife, she Is not to hold any office. This was also 
expressed in a survey conducted by V. K. Ort relevant to 
the ideal superintendent's wife. 17 An almost tmanrmous 
expression on the part of ministers' wives portrayed In the 
literature Is that they should not hold an office. The ra- 
tionale supporting this position is that this does not stim- 
ulate and develop lay leadership; hence, many organiza- 
tions fold up when the minister's wife leaves. 

Important to husband's success or failure. Wives are 
recognized as important factors in their husbands* success 
or failure. As already indicated, corporations have dis- 
covered that an executive with a happy home life is a 
more congenial, productive worker. His wife needs to be 
an interesting conversationalist, and she must know various 


by as as of 

The wife of the is 

classified as a public who or 

husband's or career. That the right 

of wife is one of die minister's is clearly 

pointed out in on the minister's wife. While a chap- 

ter is frequently devoted to the minister and his wife, the 
assumption the wife assists her husband underlies 

practically all the literature. 

Well-disciplined expected. Well-disciplined 

children are expected and recognized as assets to their 
fathers 7 work. As one school administrator phrased it, 
" People are hesitant and suspicious about entrusting their 
children to those who have made a mess of bringing up 
their own families." 1S 

Relaxed for home. Wives are expected to 

provide a relaxed atmosphere in the home to which the 
weary husband can retreat for respite. This expectation is 
clearly presented for the wives of businessmen, educators, 
and ministers. 

Loneliness. The wives are frequently lonely persons. The 
loneliness that they experience is frequently attributed to 
the fact that they feel unable to establish close friendships 
with the persons with whom they work, either because 
this creates Jealousies or engenders other leadership prob- 
lems. Therefore, loneliness was found to be a common de- 
nominator among the wives. 

Seminomadic life. These wives frequently have a type of 
semmomadic life. Corporations today are interested in the 
executive's wife who is willing to uproot herself and move 
where her husband is needed. One " adjusted " corpora- 
tion wife expressed her feelings this way, " Any time the 
curtains get dirty, Tm ready to move." 19 While the min- 


ister's wife may or not such willingness, she 

moe every few years, for the most part 

to have to accept this as " all in the day's work." 

Dress Such wives are ex- 

pected to dress attractively but conservatively. It also 
to be generally accepted that they dress in accord- 
ance with community custom. That is, the wife does not 
dress better than most of those in the community or organ- 
ization. The wife who is conspicuous by reason of over- 
dressing or imderdressing is frowned upon. 

Interpersonal relations. Wives are expected to keep the 
machinery of interpersonal relations moving smoothly by 
the lubricating effects of their congeniality. The educa- 
tor's wife is urged to avoid the ** controversial attitude/ 7 20 
and the -minister's wife is advised to " always be an agree- 
able person.** 21 While this may keep the machinery run- 
ning smoothly, one wonders what the impact of this per- 
petual congeniality is upon the wives* mental hygiene. 

Ready-made friends. One of the compensations of their 
roles is that it provides them with a ready-made, prefabri- 
cated group of friends. The educator and minister alike 
move into a community with friends awaiting them purely 
on the basis of the roles they occupy. This appeared to be 
one of the more satisfying aspects of their roles. Probably 
the executive's wife is less likely to have this waiting com- 
munity of friends. 

Intellectual cautions. The wives have to exercise caution 
lest they appear too intellectual or otherwise outstrip those 
with whom they associate. Whyte observed that one cor- 
poration wife regularly arranges her magazines according 
to the class and caliber of the guests. Thus, Harper's Mag- 
mme and Atlantic travel from beneath the magazine stack 
to the top when a more sophisticated and intellectual guest 


is expected, 22 M misters* wives frequently die feel- 

ing their education be a to parish- 

ioners who a college education. The literature in- 

structs to exercise care in inconspicuously 


Fish-bowl existence. It appears to be generally con- 
ceded that the wives of public figures are, as the wives of 
city managers expressed it, ** on display." 2S This is recog- 
nized in all of the literature on the minister's wife, and is 
dealt with in one way or another, sometimes by devoting 
a chapter to counseling the lady of the manse on this 
point, or eke, underlying much that is said, there is a tacit 
reminder that she is on display. 

Gracious hostess. These wives are expected to be gra- 
cious hostesses. The wife of a businessman or an educator 
frequently entertains various dignitaries, and emphasis is 
placed upon her ability to fulfill, this aspect of her role and 
otherwise put guests at ease. The minister's wife, too, is 
the gracious hostess, and is generally admonished to ** set 
the example in gracious living." 24 In all that these wives do 
they are expected to be 'gracious. The one quality included 
in a large percentage of the description of the ideal 'Cor- 
poration wife was that she is gracious. 

The foregoing points of similarity in the roles of the 
wives of business and professional men with that of min- 
isters* wives are striking. The major point at which the 
roles of these wives are divergent is that of participation 
in their husbands* work. While the wife of the businessman 
or educator may have only a superficial knowledge and in- 
terest in her husband's work, the minister's wife is vitally 
involved both in the church and at home. Even the usual 
position of the minister's home next to the church makes 
it more difficult for her to dissociate herself from her hus- 


band's work. Furthermore, the literature indicates that she 
is by church and community to be intimately in- 

volved in the activities of the church. On the other hand, 
the businessman's wife may know little or nothing about 

production quotas, inventories, and other aspects of the 
business world, nor is she expected to. 

It is precisely at the point of the expectations by her 
husband, church, community, and herself with reference 
to participating in her husband's work that the similarity 
between the minister's wife and the role of other wives 
breaks down. This is an important consideration when en- 
deavoring to understand the uniqueness of her role. 

Chapter III 

Role Attitudes 

Toward Her Husband's Work 

MINISTERS' WIVES expect and are expected to par- 
ticipate, to a greater or lesser degree, in their hus- 
bands' work. At this point, their role is rather unique. IB 
marrying, they many more than a man. They also become 
a part of a role with a long tradition the ministry. This 
role not only has expectations of their pastor-husbands 
but also has its ideas as to what they themselves should 
do or be, or not do or be. In matters of religion they may 
be expected to be ** experts." Gr, as one wife relates, when 
the church doors are open, she is expected to be there even 
if she has a broken leg in a cast! Needless to say, a constel- 
lation of attitudes revolve around these expectations. 

It is the purpose of this chapter to explore some of these 
attitudes expressed by wives toward their husbands* work. 
Attention will be devoted first to their feelings about shar- 
ing in this work .and the manner in which they participate. 
Secondly, certain specific attitudes arising out of the work, 
such as loneliness and family time, will be explored. 


One of the primary aspects of the role of the wife of a 
minister Is her participation in her husband's work. She 



Is probably expected to- his work in a manner and to 

a degree experienced by few wives. At times die 

question is by wives as to whether they are 

active laymen or assistant pastors. 

The Ministers Wife: Pastor or Active Layman? 

" 1 the minister's wife is a kind of * little minister/ " 

is the evaluation of her role by one pastor's wife. ^ Little 
minister >? is a rather descriptive term. This type of wife 
is busily engaged in all Mnds of church activities, teaching, 
speaking, visiting, and counseling. She may also partic- 
ipate in certain administrative tasks such as making the 
quarterly report to the state headquarters of the church. 
Either verbally or unconsciously she appears to think of 
her primary role as focusing outside the home. In a sense 
she is her husband's third arm. She could be realistically 
considered the assistant pastor of the church. Indeed, one 
wife of this type remarked, * Our church feels it has two 

The assistant-pastor wife usually appears to be one who 
sees her role primarily as that of church worker. This is her 
ministry too. These wives frequently have no children or 
their children are grown. The religious background of 
some pastors* wives seems to ascribe this role to them 
more than to other wives. For example, more conservative 
congregations may expect their pastor's wife to share more 
in the husband's work. To be sure, there are some commu- 
nities where the pastor's wife, of necessity, has to assume 
more responsibilities than pastors* wives in other communi- 
ties. The remark made by one wife might well be agreed 
upon by other wives in this category: * If I don't do it, it 
isn't done! " 

The fact that a woman has prepared herself for religious 


work may be a in wives' 

in their work others. In man}* in- 

they have have worked in 

as directors of or in 

Some of wives state they 

were ministers. Part 

of the agreement with was that they would 

continue to be very active in the church. The coming of 
children makes this more difficult. One wife tells of 
her first child on a sled to do visitation in the community. 
This eventually ceased, ** because I couldn't get them all 
on the sled!" 

However, the assistant-pastor type of wife appears to be 
passing. There seems to be a rebellion against this concept, 
especially among the younger wives. The following re- 
mark is typical of these wives: " I feel that the minister's 
wife has enough to do being a wife without having to be 
the unpaid assistant of the pastor. She shouldn't be ex- 
pected to do any more than the banker's wife or the farm- 
er's wife/* 

\When asked about the advice she would give a girl en- 
gaged to a minister, one wife replied, * I wouldn't give ad- 
vice to her on the basis of being a minister's wife, but sim- 
ply on the basis of being a good wife," Interestingly, some 
husbands seem to be spearheading this movement. One 
pastor said that he told the pulpit committee of a church 
that was considering him: " I understand you pay only one 
salary to the pastor. Well, you are going to get all of me, 
if you call me, but my wife will not be my unpaid assist- 
ant/' The church called him as pastor! 

More than half of the wives whom I have interviewed 
express the feeling that no more should be expected of 
them than of any other active layman in the church. The 


seminaries are evidently playing an important role in 

bringing about this change. When queried as to where 
they got the idea that the pastor's wife should not be ex- 
pected to be more active in church activities than an active 
layman, soiae say that seminary professors were influential 
la forming the attitude. This attitude is possibly a reaction 
against the concept of the minister's wife in literature, 
depicted in Chapter II, and still expected by some congre- 

Reinforcement on the Home Front 

'The above observations can be misleading if they are 
interpreted to mean that ministers' wives are in no sense 
more involved in church work than are other active 
churchwomen. This is not their experience. Ministers' 
wives are inevitably and inextricably involved in their hus- 
bands' work If for no other reason, the physical environ- 
ment makes this true. In most instances, the pastor's home, 
usually provided by the church, is located close to the 
church building, Furthermore, the pastor's study is fre- 
quently located in his home, with the accompanying pro- 
cession of callers trooping in and out during the day. Un- 
der such circumstances., it is hardly possible for his wife 
to dissociate herself for long from the atmosphere of her 
husband's worlc. One wife observed that it was impossible 
for her to eliminate her involvement in her husband's work 
simply because he was away most evenings attending 
church meetings and calling on the people who were not 
at home during the day. She was involved by virtue of the 
fact that she was denied Ms companionship at a time when 
other husbands are at home. And an absent husband is an 
all-too-frequent experience with ministers* wives. Min- 
isters* wives, then, from any position, are unable to detach 


themselves their work. Moreover, of 

clo want to. 

Wives I have interviewed to perceive their 

largely as participation in the work their hus- 

bands, rather directly in church activities. They ap- 

pear to do little more in the church directly than wives 
of active laymen. Most o teach Sunday school Ac- 

tivities that others mentioned most frequently are leading 
devotional^ working with the young people and women's 
groups, singing in the choir, and working with the summer 
vacation church school It seems to be almost universally 
expected that the pastor's wife will work with the women. 
Few fail to meet this expectation. 

However, their chief a^^^^jena^^i^^fi^QDifi, Here 
they think that they can make their most important con- 
tribution to the church and its cause. Direct participation 
in church affairs is secondary in importance; This attitude 
is expressed in the comments of two wives who said: 

My husband and I talked this over before we came here and 
arrived at this decision. We decided that my first responsibil- 
ity is here at home. I think I can do the most for the church 
by helping him, here. 

Well, IVe thought about this and decided when Bill and I first 
married I would not be like some wives of ministers IVe Icnown 
who neglect their home and family to work in the church. I 
feel I can help out most if I can provide a home where Bill 
can relax, blow off steam, or what have you. I don't think a man 
can do Ms best work if things at home aren't right. 

Exactly how do ministers' wives help their husbands in 
the home? Ideas and phrases such as "relaxed atmos- 
phere," " encouragement," " being a friendly critic/' " run- 
ning an orderly home,** and " providing a refuge ** are fre- 
quently mentioned. They visualize the home as a ** city 


of refuge ** to which the harassed pastor can retreat. If he 
is despondent, she cheers him; if discouraged, she encour- 
if bewildered, she talks it out with him; if filed 
with hostility, she hears him out. As one pastor phrased it: 
** She . . . will help him buckle on his armor as he leaves 
home in the morning. She will be the first to greet him at 
the close of the day and bind up the inevitable wounds of 
life's skirmishes.** i 

The role of friendly critic is a contribution these wives 
make to their husbands. One pastor remarking on this 
point said, ** Its- awfully nice to have in the congregation a 
friendly critic who doesn't have an ax to grind." ** You need 
a pulse out there/' he continued, ** and my wife serves that 
function very well because you never know how things 
will sound from the pews." 

There is another sense in which ministers* wives feel 
they help their husbands in the home. The pastor's home 
is frequently the scene of dinners or other types of enter- 
tainment. Various board meetings are held there on occa- 
sion. Visiting dignitaries are a rather common experience. 
During these times the wives are responsible for general 
hostess duties. Some wives hold an annual open house, and 
try to keep other meetings in the home to a minimum. 

The home is sometimes, of necessity, used for church 
meetings. This is particularly true of newly constituted 
churches. It is not uncommon for Sunday school classes, 
and even worship services, to be held in the pastor's home 
until the church building is completed. This certainly puts 
additional stress on the pastor's wife. Most wives accept 
it philosophically, feeling it can be endured oil a temporary 

The parsonage telephone rings frequently. This is even 
more true when the study is located in the home. The par- 


is viewed as an service by 

many parisMoners. Queries as to when the pastor will be 
in; whether or not the ** Ladies' Pink Lemonade Society ** 
is meeting today; what time the * Men's Spoon and Fork 
Club " is meeting, are regular fare. But again, the wives 
seem to feel dmtjhej^are pmticigatiiig in their husbands* 
"wor^"~pSlOTmiiig a vital function tending the telephone, 
answering questions, and making appointments. 

Then too, there are other ways in which they feel they 
participate in the husbands* work in the home. Among 
these are secretarial functions: typing^ keeping records, 
getting out mailings, or preparing and mimeographing the 
weekly bulletin. This could make the pastor's wife an un- 
paid secretary instead of an unpaid pastoral assistant. 

All of this is being noted as an attempt to indicate that 
these wives are inevitably involved in, and participate in, 
their husbands' work While they do not appear to work 
much more directly in the church than other active lay- 
women, one suspects that it is more difficult for them to 
look upon this as a kind of extracurricular activity as other 
women might. It is all a part of their husbands* work: 
church work. Even the atmosphere of the church per- 
meates their home through the telephone, through the 
home's proximity to the church building and other less 
tangible channels. What are their attitudes about all this? 
How do they feel about it? 

Interviewing ministers* wives, one is impressed by the 
feeling they communicate that thisjsjl^^ 
They are married to men wEolsxe ministers, and who are 
doing what they believe God wants them to do. But the 
wives too feel they are having .ajritaljpLart ,i -the work of 
the Kingdom Tof "Cod. Comments similar to the following 
one are not at all uncommon: 


I think of the that means most to me is that I am 

working together with my husband in a cause we both deeply 
believe in. I said " together " because I think of it as something 
like rowing a boat. He has his oar and I have mine. When we 
row together, the work goes forward. 

The idea of working together with the husband is further 
indicated by the regular use of the words ** we " and " us.** 
But this feeling is not shared by all ministers' wives. 

A few wives verbalize the feeling that their hus- 
bands* work is simply another job, a source of income. 
Mrs. Mary R., one who objected to being considered a 
minister's wife, said: < I don't think of myself as a min- 
ister's wife. I am married to a man who happens to be a 
minister.*' Generally, she seemed to reject her role as a 
minister's wife. Few positive expressions of identification 
with the church people were expressed. In addition to feel- 
ing that the women's group was comprised of ** petty and 
superficial " women, Mary felt that they expected her to 
participate in every activity, and that they pried into her 
private life. Another wife, Mrs. Ann B,, with similar atti- 
tudes about her husband's work being simply a job, ap- 
peared to have little direct contact with the church. 
Among other things, she refused to attend the women's 
meetings. Her sole contact with the church was with 
the church nursery on Sunday morning. She worked 
outside the home in the public schools, and indicated 
that she liked living near a metropolitan area, since this 
gave her a chance to have a " second life " away from the 
church and its activities. 

Apparently the husbands of these women were con- 
tented with their wives' roles in the church. They gave 
every evidence of being happily married. How the congre- 
gations felt is not known. To be sure, there are those wives 
who, because of their particular personality make-up, may 


need anonymity or a ** second life" more others. 

Probably most ministers* -wives could profit by an occa- 
sional excursion to a city where they could 
easily lay aside temporarily of die trappings of their 
role. Tf^jsjs often necessary even though their role is a 
satisfying one. 

Although ministers* wives expect to participate in their 
husbands' work, some feel that Jtqq^ much pressure is ex- 
erted on A^tojdojg^cular .things. They would like to 
reserve the right to participate in those activities dictated 
by their own time, interests, and abilities. While there is 
always some pressure from church and community for the 
performance of certain role functions, few of the wives 
seem to feel that these expectations seriously limit their 
freedom of self-expression. 

The husbands too can exert pressure for certain types of 
participation. One young wife told that her husband 
wanted her to continue teaching a Sunday school class 
after their baby came. **He doesn't seem to realize the 
changes that have to be made when a baby comes/* she 
said. The same wife also reported,, ^ There were some 
nights while I was pregnant when I simply didn't feel like 
going to church, but he didn't seem to understand and 
wanted me to go, 9 * Still, this wife gave up her Sunday 
school class and the evening services. The husband appar- 
ently adjusted to it. 

When asked what they Me^feogjiKHii being ministers* 
wives, the distaste for high expectations are frequently 
noted. The response of the following wife is typical: 

I think the thing I like least Is having the people expect too 
much of me. You're always expected to be a living example for 
others. If they had their way, Yd be gone from home all the 
time attending meetings. I have only twenty-four hours a day, 
and two hands, but I resent their expecting it, anyway. 


this 'is or much impact It lias 

on the of wives way is difficult 

to It have serious repercussions. Most wives 

to be to accept the expectations philosophi- 

cally with such as: " I didn't go into this 

blind. It's a part of the work, and you get used to it" 

f lie Women's Groups 

Like other active women in the church, ministers' wives 
seem to consider the women's work their forte. They may 
not expect, or be expected, to do church visitation and 
other pastoral work, but it apparently is taken for granted 
that they participate in this area of church life. This is such 
a clear-cut expectation connected with their role and 
shared by church, husband, and themselves, that it de- 
serves special attention. Frequent mention is made in the 
literature to the minister's wife working with the women. 
Mrs, Blackwood devotes two whole chapters to the sub- 
fect. 2 Something of the importance of her participation 
was indicated by one wife who remarked that she felt the 
church did not mind her working outside the home as long 
as she was able to attend the women's meetings. 

There seems to be a consensus among ministers* wives 
that they should not hold a prominent office in the wom- 
en's organizations. About one third of the wives in my ini- 
tial research did agree to become chairmen of the spiritual 
life committee. It is interesting that they were willing to 
assume the responsibility of leadership for this area of the 
women's work Possibly they felt that the spiritual sphere, 
by virtue of their relationship to the pastor, was in their 
realm. Both parishioners and the wives themselves seem 
to expect the minister's wife to have a greater understand- 
ing of the religious or spiritual. 


Generally, wives' to die 

women's work seems to be support 

ance. Their status as ministers* wives the 

that the church leadership an in work 

As one wife said: * & At first they me to be president 

but I refused, which they to accept ail right. They 

don't ask me to do much now, but they do expect me to be 

While ministers* wives expect and accept participation 
in this work as another aspect of their total role, some wives 
feel the need for reducing the number of women's meet- 
ings held each month. Evidently some churches have a 
rather disorganized women's program, with several differ- 
ent groups meeting during the month, each having only a 
few in attendance. The minister's wife is sometimes instru- 
mental in consolidating these groups, resulting in fewer 
meetings and an improved program. This is a real boon 
to those ministers' wives who consider it necessary to at- 
tend the meeting of each circle. Most wives seem to feel 
they should be members of a particular circle. Others voice 
the opinion that they should be unaffiliated with any 
particular group and be a kind of roving member-at- 

Not all ministers* wives eagerly anticipate working with 
the women's program. These wives are noteworthy, not 
so much because of their number, but because of the in- 
tensity of their feelings and the reasons for their disinter- 
est. Mrs. Linda G. ? who lives in a small Eastern village, is 
typical of these wives. When asked about her participation 
in the women's work, she replied: 

Tve tried to find some satisfaction in our women's group, but 
haven't found it. My experience has been that they are quite 
shallow. They like films and speakers if they are lively and 


humorous. But they are not interested la anything really stimu- 

A closer at Linda may provide some clues to the 
feelings of other wives with similar attitudes. She was a 
college graduate and had taught school for two years prior 
to marriage. She and her husband found great delight in 
discussing various problems and issues over a cup of coffee 
after the children were in bed. Their small church tad few 
colege graduates and she voiced the feeling of being frus- 
trated at the lack of interest on the part of the church 
women in what she considered the more serious, meaty 
topics. It was a mistake, Linda felt, to divide groups along 
sex lines. The more natural division would be along inter- 
est lines. Rather spontaneously she had started meeting 
with four or five women in a seznif ormal manner, holding 
** serious conversations." At no time did she communicate 
to me the feeling of being an intellectual snob. Nor did 
she seem to have strong hostile feelings toward their wom- 
en's work. Rather, she seemed to be disappointed at the 
women's lack of interest in exploring what she considered 
" the weightier matters of the law.** Her hunger for this 
type of rektedness led her into a relationship with a 
smaller group of women. 

The emotional content of Mrs. Martha D.'s remarks 
about women's groups had the distinct sting of hostility: 

I feel that women in groups are petty. A man can say, " George, 
you are wrong," and George will take it. But women you have 
to handle with gloves. In groups, women are superficial; they're 
never interested in anything stimulating. Frankly, I feel intel- 
lectually starved. 

Her distaste for women in groups may have stemmed 
partly from the fact that they had no appreciation for 
Kierkegaard and existentialism, in which she had an avid 


interest. It may also have its roots in her 
toward women in general It not take a person with 
special psychological acuity to note her negative 
toward women in the statement quoted above. To her way 
of thinking, to be a woman is to be petty. She has little in- 
terest for the latest kitchen gadget, new decorator styles, 
or what Mrs. Jones down the street is doing. Martha does 
thoroughly delight in having deep philosophical and theo- 
logical discussions with her husband on TiDidh, Earth, or 

One thing is somewhat disturbing about these two 
women: Their education seems to have separated them 
from their people. Apart from the personal problems ei- 
ther one of them may have, their education may serve to 
so alter their interests that it is difficult for them, and pos- 
sibly for other wives like them, to be challenged and stimu- 
lated by the topics of interest to the average church wife. 
This may not be an imcommon problem with pastors* 
wives, although it appears in varying degrees' of intensity. 


It is the purpose of this section to explore the wives" atti- 
tudes on certain specific aspects of their husbands* work. 
These are some of the recurring themes that one who 

works with ministers* wives observes. 

The Person Who Became a Minister After Other Work 

One frequently encounters the minister's wife whose 
husband was at first employed in another type of work. 
When she married the young man he had the ambition of 
becoming president of his company, or head of a univer- 
sity department, or manager of the supermarket in which 


he worked. She herself shared his ambition and married 
with in mind. They were usually active in church 
she enjoyed her role as another member of the church. 
His subsequent decision that the ministry was the area of 
service that would give most meaning to his life called 
for major readjustments on the part of his wife. What are 
her attitudes about his decision? How does she feel about 
being uprooted from the security of a familiar neighbor- 
hood, a regular monthly check, and launching into the un- 
certainties and financial insecurity of an extended theo- 
logical education? How does she feel about being the 
woman of the church instead of simply another member 
of the lock? 

The experience of four wives whose husbands entered 
the ministry after marriage may suggest some clues to 
answers for the above questions. Certainly no generaliza- 
tions for ministers' wives as a whole can be made from this 
number. Nonetheless, these wives described themselves 
as being active in the church prior to the decision of their 
husbands to enter the ministry. In all instances it was a 
decision preceded by considerable discussion and evalua- 
tion on the part of both husband and wife. The final deci- 
sion in at least three of the cases appears to have been a 
mutual one. The fourth wife agreed to her husband's deci- 
sion but not with the wholehearted enthusiasm character- 
istic of the other wives. When asked how she felt about 
her husband's decision, this wife said: 

Frankly, from the beginning I thought it was most unfortunate. 
I didn't want to be a minister's wife. [Why?] I felt unworthy, 
as she [the minister's wife] should lead an exemplary life. I 
didn't feel like being an example. 

She finally decided that she would have three years dur- 
ing his seminary training to get " polished up " for her new 


role. As a part of her for the she 

classes in seminary. These years proved to be 

She appears to have well to role 

is IB a parish. There was no between 

her responses and those of other wives. 

One of the other wives knew her husband was con- 
sidering the ministry during their courtship. They mar- 
ried and continued to discuss the possibility. She stated 
that during this time she encouraged him in the direction 
of the ministry. ** The idea of being a minister's wife had 
appealed to me since I was in high school/* she said. This 
appeal was attributed to the influence of a pastor's wife 
whom she knew as a girl. 

Another wife was married to a college sociology profes- 
sor ten years before he entered the ministry. She described 
herself as having been " catapulted into the ministry ? and 
at the age of forty moved into her first parsonage. When 
her husband had considered accepting a pastorate without 
attending seminary, she remonstrated with him, saying: 
" You shall not! Til go back to work and well both go to 
seminary." And they did! This enthusiastic support has 
continued to characterize her relationship to hiro and his 
work. She was one of the assistant-pastor type of wives 
who seemed to have almost completely absorbed herself 
in his work. She participated in several of the church or- 
ganizations, held a young people's meeting in her home 
every Sunday evening, and even did pastoral casing with 
her husband. Having no children, there was less house- 
work to be done, thus releasing much of her time for 
numerous church activities. While she expressed great en- 
joyment in doing these, there were times, she confessed, 
when she became weary of it. 

The fourth wife's husband had been a chemical engineer 


for twelve years prior to entering the ministry. When asked 
how she felt about becoming a pastors wife, she said, 
** Well, when he told me, I knew it was God's will, and I 
felt Just as called to be a minister's wife as he did to be a 
minister.** Both of them, she said, had been weary of the 
aimless struggle for status and money that they experi- 
enced in themselves and observed in their friends. This 
type of life, she felt, was a meaningless maze. She felt that 
the change had not made any real difference in the areas of 
their lives related to religious practice. They had always 
been active in church, tithed their income, and had prayer 
in their home- 
Interestingly, this wife too had plunged into her hus- 
band's work with all her energies. Throughout the inter- 
view she said, " I don't want to be the assistant pastor." 
This, plus the degree to which she was involved in his 
work, suggested that she may have been experiencing 
some concern over being more of a pastor than her hus- 
band. She described herself as outgoing and aggressive, 
and her husband as shy and retiring. After I met both of 
them, it seemed to me that this was a fair evaluation. Re- 
marks such as wanting to " do as the Bible says and sub- 
mit to my husband ** indicated that she was confronting a 
conflict of roles and was possibly operating "with her 
brakes on.** To do all that she wanted to do would be 
threatening, since this does not plumb with her concept of 
femininity or of being a minister's wife. This reminds one 
of Mira Komarovsky's study of feminine-role conflicts in 
which she found that it is not unusual for girls in our so- 
ciety to " play dumb,** or in other ways to take care not to 
outdo the male. 3 To do so can be threatening to both the 
male and female, since it is not quite feminine. However, 
one might conjecture that the conflict experienced by this 
wife existed before her husband became a minister. It is, 


therefore, symptomatic of in her 

has or to* do her 

present of a wife. 

As has been noted, wives for the 

most part to have their strongly in 

their decisions to enter the ministry. While a wife be 
opposed initially to the decision, die of semi- 

Bar) 7 training the other ministers* 

wives appeared to have been a rich ground for 

the future pastor's wife. To be sure, there are some wives 
who strongly oppose their husbands* decision to enter the 
ministry. One of the problems frequently brought to semi- 
nary professors by students has to do with this conflict. 
Usually the wife is able to make some type of satisfactory 
adjustment to her role as a minister's wife. Others never 
adjust to it. Some husbands leave the ministry or go into 
a phase of the ministry other than the pastorate in "which 
the wife is not thrown into as close contact with parish- 
ioners as is the pastor's wife. 

On Being Called 

The definitions of a concept of caU into some vocation 
are about as numerous as there are persons attempting to 
define the term. However, it usually pertains to a sense of 
divine commissioning for some task. It. may be perceived 
as something very personal from God; or, on the other 
hand, the recognition of a need, and a willingness and abil- 
ity to serve that need, may constitute a call. Some perceive 
the call to a religious career, such as the ministry, to be 
essentially different from the call to be a schoolteacher. 
Whatever the concept of the call, there seems to be at the 
heart of the definition a conviction that this particular 
thing is what God wants this particular person to do. 


With a group of twenty-three typical ministers' 

wives, I which of the following described their 

own feelings on the subject of called as a minister's 


1. I felt called to be a minister's wife before I married. 

2. 1 felt caled to do some type of " full-time Christian 

work " before marriage, and felt I could do this by 
being a minister's wife. 

3. I BOW feel called to be a minister's wife, although I 

did not before marriage. 

4. 1 feel no sense of call and see my role as being like 

that of any other Christian wife. 

In their replies, one indicated that the first alternative 
described her feelings; six, the second alternative; one, the 
third; .and fifteen, the last. 

While the number involved in this survey is too small to 
draw any firm conclusions, it does raise some interesting 
possibilities. It is noted that nearly twice as many as the 
other three alternatives combined felt no sense of call and 
perceived their role to be much like that of any other 
Christian wife. This is not to say, however, that these 
wives felt no sense of responsibility to the larger Christian 
cause. Their lack of a call, by whatever definition, in no 
way negated their obligations as Christians. As one wife 
remarked: " I can't say that I have any call. I haven't seen 
any flashing lights or ringing bells, but I am vitally inter- 
ested in the work and mission of the church." As noted, 
some of the wives felt they were called to do some type 
of ** full-time Christian work " and believed they were ful- 
filling this call in being a minister's wife. One of them ex- 
pressed it this way: 

I think you'd say I felt called to do full-time Christian work, 
but it wasn't until I met Ed and he talked to me of going into 


I to 1 

that call 

While of the a of call, 

two voiced the all 

a of call. The 

I believe if God really calls a minister, lie calls Ms 
-wife. It's a mutual call, it is very important she be 

called. [Why?] Well, she has to undergo a lot of things, and 
if she doesn't called, she could get bitter. 

With both wives the rationale underlying their position 
was that the attendant hardships experienced by the min- 
ister's wife are of such a nature that unless she feels that 
God has caled her to the role, she may become unhappy 
and even bitter. When pressed further about the nature of 
these hardships, both mentioned the husband's absence 
from the home, particularly in the evenings. 

This emphasis on the necessity of the wife's clear-cut 
caM may be partly attributable to a denominational em- 
phasis. One wife voicing the need for a call comes from a 
group that places great emphasis on religious workers 
having a clear, personal cal to their vocation. At other 
times the necessity for a call appears to arise out of its 
functional value. That is, a cal enables one to endure the 
otherwise unendurable. 

Guy Ranson, in a perceptive article on the concept of 
Christian vocation, points out that one of the unique con- 
tributions of the Protestant Reformation was to elevate all 
labor, whether priest or plowman, to the position of being 
a service to God. 4 Each individual is called to serve God 
regardless of his particular work. All alike should feel that 
their station in life is where God would have them. They 
have been * called * there. There is a renewed interest in 


the Christian concept of vocation in our day. There are 

many kymen as well as ministers and ministers' wives who 
verbalize the feeling that one's call is really a call to serve 
God in whatever work one be engaged. 

On Being Lonely 

A thread of thought woven throughout the fabric of 
one's contacts with ministers* wives is that of loneliness. 
This loneliness is not apparent to the casual observer, for 
they appear to be busily going about their duties. On 
every hand they are involved in people's lives. Could these 
people be lonely? They not only could be lonely, but are. 
Their loneliness arises, not out of an absence of people,, but 
out of their lack of deep, meaningful relationships with 
these people. Loneliness is dispelled when one whole per- 
son confronts another whole person in love. Many minis- 
ters* wives seem to have difficulty finding persons with 
whom they can be whole selves. Of the ministers' wives 
whom I have interviewed, taught, and counseled, fully 
two thirds spontaneously express a sense of loneliness. 
Even a larger number mention the subject, though cer- 
tainly not all feel lonely. 

When asked about the aspect they dislike most as a min- 
ister's wife, one of the most frequent responses has to do 
with being lonely. The following are two examples: 

The thing I like least about being a minister's wife is the loneli- . 
ness. You can be surrounded by people and submerged in 
activities and yet feel all alone. 

We're the loneliest souls in the world. Sometimes you think 
that if only you had someone to sit down with and talk, some- 
one who would listen sympathetically and understand you, 
it would mean so much. 


The of the wife is 

is by friends, of are to go 

to to life comfortable, yet 

Is lonely. When an Is to why 

women feel way their answers are interesting. Though 
expressed In different words, in judgment 

has Its genesis In a lack of close friends among those with 
whom they most often associate the church people. Min- 
isters' wives usually think that their role as the pastor's 
wife does not permit developing close friends, the type of 
friends with whom one can let her hair down. The ra- 
tionale underlying this Is that It breeds jealousies among 
parishioners. These wives tell of experiences with close 
friends In the parish, usually In their " younger days," and 
of the problems this engendered In the church family. This 
is particularly true If the minister's wife has chosen to be 
friendly with an Indiscreet parishioner who broadcasts the 

The personal equation here as to how lonely she really 
is seems to be Important. Wives who do not express a sense 
of loneliness frequently have found other outlets. Or they 
express the feeling that they do not have strong need for 
close friendships. Some say they have never been the type 
to reveal close intimacies to others. They therefore do not 
miss such friendship In the parish. 

There is more to being close to another than sharing In- 
timacies. One wife pointed this out when she said that 
loneliness can stem from the fact that no one shares expe- 
riences and convictions that the minister's wife perceives 
as significant. She continued: 

Our church has always had people In It whom we could chal- 
lenge. There are those who are willing to be adventurous. We 
have found them In prayer groups and elsewhere. Because we 


have always discovered those who lived adventurously spirit- 
ually, we have never really lonely. 

The loneliness experienced by ministers'" wives also ap- 
pears to have its origin in the way people relate to them. 
Some wives express the feeling that they are looked upon 
as being different. " I don't know why they do it," said one 
wife. <c IVe got the same blood running in my veins as they 
do.* This setting apart is partly attributed to what Wayne 
Gates calls one's symbolic role. 5 That is, the minister's 
wife, like her husband, is the personification of the com- 
munity conscience. As such she represents far more than 
herself. Her very presence frequently reminds them of 
their imperfections and shortcomings. Mrs. Ann G. told of 
an experience that she had while her husband was an 
Army chaplain. She had begun attending some meetings of 
the officers' wives and felt that she was being accepted on 
the same basis as any other wife. Two new members came 
into the group and talked of night clubs and cocktails. She 
was later introduced to them as * the chaplain's wife." To 
this the shocked newcomers exclaimed, " Why didn't you 
tell us! " Apologies for talking of cocktails were forthcom- 
ing, and explanations of why they had failed to attend 
church much to the discomfort of the chaplain's wife. 
Ann took this as a type of rejection a rejection of her as 
another human being. What she failed to realize was that 
her symbolic role had sensitized the consciences of these 
two new members. 

Experiences such as this are not uncommon to ministers* 
wives. They are very much aware of the fact that at all 
times and places they are " the ministers wife." Like the 
psalmist, they have no place to hide (Ps. 139:7-12). 
S. Stansfeld Sargent makes the important point that roles 
differ in breadth or extensiveness. 6 A boy maybe the 


in group, the clown in but ** a 

of the plays Ms role in all or 

all of his social contacts." 7 The of the wife, 

too, is characterized by breadth. It is for 

her to lay it at any time. If she does, she is to 

be of the fact by a of the community. 

Ministers' wives admittedly face a dilemma. 
close friends in the church frequently produces Jealousies 
leadership problems. But is accompanied by 

a greater of loneliness for her. What is she to do? 

Some wives frankly rebel at the idea of maintaMng dis- 
tance from parishioners. As one said: 

This idea that the minister's wife can't have close friends in 
the church may be good for the church, but it can be rough 
on her own mental hygiene. IVe decided to be friendly to any- 
one wholl be friendly to me. 

Some wives express the feeling that while it is expecting 
too much for them to be without close friends in the 
church, they nonetheless submit to the expectations of the 
church and/or husband. But these wives are also the ones 
who are likely to list this as being the one thing they dis- 
like most about being a minister's wife. 

Other wives talk of coping with the problem by devel- 
oping friendships outside the church congregation; how- 
ever, it seems that relatively few take this approach. 
Mrs. Susan G. told of having a close friendship with an- 
other couple outside the church. The wife was a Protestant 
who never attended church and her husband was an in- 
active Catholic, but their friendship was meaningful The 
husband, a businessman, was able to understand many of 
her husband^s administrative problems and the wife was 
able to share deeply with Susan in some of her concerns 


and This unorthodox relationship, how- 

ever, fellow in the denomination. 

^What do you have in common with these unchurched 
people? ** they asked. Nonetheless, Susan and her husband 
were undaunted continued the friendship. 

A natural group of friends outside the church would be 
the wives of other pastors who have similar problems and 
experiences; however, it appears that the wives have close 
relationships with other ministers' wives in relatively few 
instances. In attempting to determine why these friend- 
ships do not exist more often than they do, the women usu- 
ally respond that they, like other wives, are too busy with 
children, church work, and housework to find time to get 
together. However, the feeling is sometimes communi- 
cated that other factors enter this picture. Competitiveness 
between churches is one of these and may account for 
some kck of contact with other wives of ministers in the 
community. This possibility was first suggested by remarks 
made by a -minister's wife who lived in a small village 
where five denominations were represented. Any time a 
new person moved into the community, she said, there was 
a contest on the part of the congregations, and one in par- 
ticular, to interest the newcomer in their church. While 
this might increase membership, it appeared to be creating 
certain tensions between the churches, pastors, and pas- 
tors' wives. "You just don't feel comfortable here with 
other ministers' wives," another pastor's wife in this village 

Doctrinal differences may also prove to be a barrier at 
times. The wife of one of the more conservative denomina- 
tions indicated that her husband had pulled out of the 
local ministerial alliance because of a disagreement over 
some practices that he considered unchristian. She thought 


the of too 

of the to of a 


her of 

by carrying on an with 

old " I would young ministers wife," 

she said, " to the art of letter writing to- to 

old friends. 5 * A by is 

at all, but it would a legion of letters to be as 
as one " live ?> friend. 

Whatever the reasons* the fact stands many wives 
of ministers are lonely persons. Probably this, in part, ac- 
counts for the intensity with which some plunge into their 
husbands'' work. Through sheer activity, they are able to 
blunt the effects of their deeper loneliness. In fact, it is 
not uncommon for wives who express no sense of loneli- 
ness to say that they are too busy to be lonely. 

The psychology of leadership may provide an interest- 
ing insight into loneliness and offers a suggestion relevant 
to the etiology of this phenomenon in ministers' wives. 
Experience has demonstrated that intimate friendships 
with persons for whom one is leader can produce leader- 
ship problems. The Army calls it " fraternizing with the 
non-coms.** The prevalence of advice in the literature 
warning the minister's wife to avoid close friendships in 
the church would seem to indicate that this "fraterniz- 
ing ** has been a real problem in the church as well. 

This section has attempted to say that the loneliness of 
ministers* wives arises not out of their lack of friends alone. 
They have a church full of friends. But it arises out of the 
problem of relating very closely and personally with a few 
individuals in the church simply as Mary Smith, not as 
** the minister's wife." As the wife of the minister, she is 


cast into a AH of the psy- 

chology of that this Immediately es- 

tablishes and to set her apart as 

Is the sequence of this isola- 

tion, this "* The ever-present problem of the 

Is to a between distance from Ms 

to tie extreme of familiar- 

ity, can probably never develop inti- 

mate with whom lie leads without 

Ms role as a In this sense, the minis- 

a She must either learn to 

live her seek other outlets, or be willing to 

run the involved in closer relationships within the 

Probably each wife must decide for herself 
ways are most meaningful to her in coping with this 


A popular theme in recent literature is that of meaning- 
Educator, theologian, philosopher, and psycholo- 
gist are aH alike concerned with this affliction of modem 
man. Anomie, as Durkeim calls it/ is essentially the prob- 
lem of die absence of any deeply significant relationship 
to something that, in the individual's estimation, is of ulti- 
mate concern. Paul Tillich describes it in these words: 

The anxiety of meaninglessness is anxiety about the loss of ulti- 
mate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all mean- 
ings. This anxiety is aroused by the loss of a spiritual center, 
of an answer, however symbolic and indirect, to the question 

of the meaning of existence. 9 

Where meaninglessness exists, there is no goal to chal- 
lenge, no cause to inspire. Life becomes a ship without a 
compass. This is frequently the problem of the successful 


person who, having worked for years toward the of 

" getting oa top/' in despair discovers no further to 

challenge and him. ensues, Jung, 

who frequently treated typ^ of person^ the 

loss of meaning is essentially a religious problem. 10 

As already noted, most ministers' wives express some 
sense of loneliness. But there was BO sense of meaningless- 
ness evident among them. Admittedly 5 it is difficult to 
assess with any precision this rather nebulous phenome- 
non. Nonetheless, there is for the most part an absence of 
the feelings of pointlessness, of a lack of purpose, of being 
without a sense of direction. One of the common answers 
to the question of what they like most about being min- 
isters' wives is the sense of being a part of something in 
which they believe. Many express a deep sense of satisfac- 
tion in having a vital part in people's lives. Broadly speak- 
ing ? the opportunity to help others is one of their most 
common satisfactions. As previously noted, many feel that 
they share this ministry. It is a service that has meaning. 
It imparts a sense of direction to their lives. To be sure, 
ttere are periods in which they experience weariness and 
emotional fatigue. At times life may be a rat race, but rela- 
tively few seem to experience the deeper soul-distressing 
sense of meaninglessness that can pervade life. 

One might raise the question as to whether involvement 
in their husbands' work has produced meaning in life, or 
meaning has produced the involvement. There is reason to 
believe that involvement is the child of meaning. In deal- 
ing with meaninglessness, Arthur Jersild makes this point 
regarding involvement: 

Where there is meaning, there is involvement When some- 
thing has meaning, one is committed to it. Where there is 
meaning, there is conviction. Where meaning is lacking in one's 
work, the self is uninvolved. 11 


To be in an of or other 
an painful expe- 
rience, is by few min- 
isters* in activities 
but see iii or are not committed to 
the of die 


one achieve a sense 
of "Self-fulfillment" here refers to the 

of achievement in the development of 

abilities. This section is concerned 
ministers' wives have about 
ability to achieve in their role. 

of self -fulfillment is the feeling of 
able to use and develop one's abilities in everyday 
The role of the minister's wife offers opportunities for 
The work of the church is broad enough in scope and 
activity to utilize even the most insignificant skills and in- 
terests. One pleased wife reported that she was even able 
to use her knowledge of basket-weaving, a skffl she ^had 
learned as a girl. It is not uncommon for ministers* wives 
to be trained in music. One wife with a master's degree in 
music found that in her church and community 
there were several children who had an interest in taking 
organ and piano lessons. She began with three pupils and 
within a year was teaching forty-five. She said that the 
quality of music in their church was rather poor. But she 
hoped that within a few years, through the pupils whom 
she was training, the level of music appreciation and per- 
formance in the church could be elevated. The point is 
that this wife found a ready outlet for the expression of a 


of a 

of self-fulfillment. 

There are wives voice the 

have go the chal- 

lenges to achieve even skills. One 

of a class in public in order to her in 

the devotionals was frequently upon to lead. 

Through the church discovering new interests and 

developing new skills. 

This is not to say al wives the 

degree of self -fulfillment would to experi- 

ence. Some are to artistic or 

training to the fullest. To extent, frustration 

partly in the fact that their role as ministers' wives may 
not provide the opportunity to express one part of them- 
selves to the degree that they previously could. For in- 
stance, a former schoolteacher, who spent five days a week 
teaching, may feel somewhat thwarted in her role as a 
minister's wife. There simply are not that many everyday 
teaching opportunities in the average church. Nor would 
she be likely to have the time for it if there were. 

While ministers 3 ' wives generally do not seem to feel 
strongly about their lack of ability to give expression to 
one aspect of their personality, a different situation may 
exist when a minister marries a professional church 
worker: a director of religious education, director of music, 
director of young people's programs, etc. This wife has 
likely developed a concept of herself as being that of a 
church worker. She has oriented herself to a masculine 
world and has been one member of a * team ** in a church 
where the others were al men. Furthermore, she has fre- 
quently spent years in specialized training. All of this has 
served to mold her self-image into that of a professional 

72 OF 

If this sub- 

to tie can be far-reaching. Her 

are involved. Rather 
fee to to a with paints 

she is to which hitherto has 

the of her life. 

Wynn this caveat to the minister 

to a church worker: 

to be a union of similar interests 

an rivalry unless these are 

people. . . . Two people, each 

to do the of work, educated in a school 

is regrettably but customarily part of the 

not be able to make a happy, sharing 

matrimony. 12 

A in is of Mrs, Sarah R. She had worked 

as a leader with the young people of her 

therefore considered herself a professional 
worker. The conlicts described by Wynn were 

portrayed in her situation. She told of an offi- 
cer in her church saying to her, when she moved into the 

(the husband had been pastor of the church a 
year prior to their marriage), that because of her back- 
ground in church work, he thought she would be a kind of 
pastor. When I asked how she felt about this, she 
responded haltingly: **I don't think it can be done too 
well. It uh, it depends iih, it depends on the hus- 
band uh . . r Since she was having difficulty express- 
ing an idea, I asked, " Are you trying to say that this can 
be a problem to the husband? ** She seemed relieved, an- 
swered in the affirmative, and proceeded to tell of in- 
stances in which it appeared to her that if she made sug- 
gestions or did anything that might be construed as falling 


lie to be his of 

ity, lie 

is but any a or 

has to be typed or a he las to do it 

I am did it 

I worked before. 1 don't know, but he to be to 

accept the fact that I can do of the he, as a min- 

ister, do. 

Her success as a church worker up to in life, 

said, had depended her ability to do creative think- 

and project plans and ideas. However, discov- 

ering that these abilities now threatened her husband. She 

was presently trying to avoid threatening by structur- 
ing the situation in such a that he would the 
idea was Ms! Again, al of this is reminiscent of Ko- 
marovsky's study, referred to earlier, in which she found 
that some American girls hold back, or **play dumb,** 
when they are with a boy in order to keep from threatening 
him. 13 

The inability of a few ministers* wives to experience a 
sense of self-fulfillment, particularly the former profes- 
sional church worker, suggests; a fertile field for premarital 
counseling. It also suggests that if the couple is to cope 
with the problem successfully, maturity on the part of 
both members is required,- But, on second thought, is not 
this required in coping with, all family problems? 

The < Place " of the Wife 

One can get some interesting responses from ministers* 
wives by having them complete the open-ended sentence, 
" I think the place of the minister's wife is . . ,** This was 
done with thirty 'ministers' wives for the initial research. 
No attempt was made to define ** place.** This was left to 


the It Ls of the wives 

to The following 

are of remarks: 

1 her Is to her husband as much as possible, 

but to be in the 

I the wife is to walk her husband. 

Well, she is to walk just a little behind him, 

he is to be the 

I the wife any special place. Like 

1 should be a helpmate to her hus- 

band with a comfortable home. 

The of the wives made their husbands 

the of in describing their place seemed to 

the were the stackpoles around 

lives. Their feelings on this 
earlier observations in this chapter about 
as in their husbands' work. 

It to note that eleven used the word 

* ** in describing their place. They perceived 

as actively participating with him but in a 
type of activity. This approach to- the 
relationship hardly sounds like the fifty-fifty con- 
of the modern cornpanionate marriage. It is more 
of a patriarchal marriage, where the husband 
in the foreground with the wife and children ar- 
ranged him. This concept of marriage raises the 
husband's concerns and interests to a position of para- 
mount importance. The wife endeavors to arrange her in- 
in such a way as to supplement and comple- 
ment his. 

This type of focus of the wife on the husband is prob- 
ably not uncommon in our society. The husband and his 
work continues to be one of the primary focuses of the 


to be at if for no 

the is the of 


over al others. Not is The 

of a fifty-fifty mar- 
riage; yet Virginia Underwood found of 
verbalize concepts of 
act on the of values 

or probably to admit, 14 

Those pastors' wives who in die back- 

ground were how they this. Two of 

a negative attitude. But, for the most part, 
appeared to be no question in their but 

was the way it should be done. Information is not avail- 
able as to how the wives who did not verbalize this con- 
cept would feel about being in the background. Possibly 
the wives" ability to accept a back-seat position with 
aplomb is partly attributable to the fact that each wife has 
her time of being the focal point of attention. While her 
role as the minister's wife is a burden at times, it fre- 
quently places her in the limelight. One wife commented 
that there was real satisfaction in being requested to speak, 
and given other such honors. Then too, her role as the min- 
ister's wife frequently gives her a place at the head of the 
table. As one wife remarked, " I wouldn't be telling the 
truth if I said I didn't enjoy the special attention I get as a 
minister's wife.* Such expressions of esteem and apprecia- 
tion -undoubtedly help ministers' wives to accept without 
rancor their ** background " role. 

On Being Ones Self 

The profundity of Hamlet's question, ** To be or not to 
be . . . ?* is sometimes overlooked. It asks one of the 


of a 

is ** to be %? ; or it: " not 

to be. n the minister's wife. She 

she her own unique- 

by to the stereotype of 

the " " wife is like, or to enact 

at the spark which 

It already been noted in 
I! it is to see the minister's wife as a 

in the She is a faceless append- 

to A role is carefully delineated and the 

tacitly communicated the " good ** minister's 

fit into this role. In seminars and inter- 

wives, about half of them spontane- 
the for " being one's self." This pro- 

an contrast to the impression created by 

of the literature. To what degree those wives who 
are actually able to achieve it is difficult 
to Nonetheless, some wives say that they have their 

help in this; that is, some husbands are appar- 
ently encouraging their wives to be honest with themselves 
around them. Even on touchy subjects, some 
husbands encourage their wives to be forthright. One wife 

He not expect me to do or say something which I really 
do not believe. There are some things about Christianity which 
I question. Sometimes I've said, " I know I should believe this," 

but he tells me if I don't believe it, then not to say I do. 

But ministers" wives are most verbal about being one's 
self when asked what advice they would give to a young 
girl engaged to a minister. Two responses here are suffi- 
cient to catch the zeal with which some .express them- 


Be yourself! I too a 

wife by be of 

is a 

Do not be discouraged if you be ** first-est the 

most-est ?> in everything. A girl she 

has to be the most talented, most eveiything, 

is so busy herself she doesn't to & 
her own sweet self. 

While Chapter V concerns the church community, 
it is in order here to note that most ministers* wives whom 
1 have Interviewed think that their church and community 
do not exert undue pressure upon them to conf orm to some 
idealized concept of the minister's wife. Most churches, 
they think, are willing for their pastor's wife to be herself. 
This is not to say, however, that the wives think they can 
remain oblivious to all community expectations and still 
maintain approval. Indeed, they recognize the church and 
community as having certain claims upon them. Some 
mention a willingness to forgo certain kinds of inconse- 
quential activities that the church strongly considers out 
of keeping with their role. The apostle Paul is quoted by a 
few of them as the basis for this type of forbearance. In 
I Cor. 5 ch. 8, Paul argues that it is perfectly legitimate for 
Christians to eat meat that had earlier been offered to 
idols and then put on the market for sale. However, he 
says that if this causes an immature Christian who does 
not understand to falter in his faith, he will not eat the 
meat This he should forgo even though there is no real 
wrong involved in eating such meat. 

Common sense dictates that a certain amount of con- 
formity to role expectations is necessary for the orderly 
conduct of life's affairs. George Herbert Mead, a pioneer 
role theorist, has made an- observation on this point: ** A 

7S OF 

OB a of stereo- 

is not a the of 

the the of call for a very 

of work." " Therefore, in die 

of it is to a 

to role ex- 

on the one at the 

to to of one's being. This 

is not It is whether one 

can tel to do Still, wives to 

to between the external pres- 

to the Inner drive to self-expression. 

But wives who fail in achieving this 


There are certainly who think they are seriously 

by the church and community in being 
(Probably al wives experience this to some 
but it is not a serious problem.) Several factors 
into such conflicts. The nature of the church, the 
of the commuiiity, and the personality make-up of 
the paticular minister's wife are three of the most im- 
portant ones. In smaller communities, the pressures to con- 
formity are probably more insistent because of the greater 
conspicuousness of the minister and his family. The experi- 
ence the church has had with previous ministers' wives, 
the size of the church, and their theological point of view 
are also other detennioitive factors. 

It is likely that the most important factor involved with 
those wives who feel seriously hindered in being them- 
selves is the personal dimension their personality make- 
up. A wife who has grown up in a community vastly dif- 
ferent from the one in which she now lives may very well 
find that there are prescriptions and proscriptions differ- 


ent she previously to For 

the minister's wife to may be in 

community a of the " rale^ " in 

another. But beyond type of may He a 

source of trouble. There are wives who are to 

act spontaneously, with real 

regardless of the vocation of or the 

where they live. The is own, not the com- 

munity's. Their own inhibitions, not of the 

community, prevent from themselves. To be 

sure, they may project the blame onto the church, com- 
munity, or even their husbands. Or, their own general pes- 
simistic outlook on life may handicap them. TMs type of 
wife may have feelings of holding herself back and of the 
parishioners being overly critical of her. She may have 
numerous negative feelings about her church being filled 
with gossipy women quarrelsome men who smoke, 

drink, dance, tell smutty jokes, and attend, church only 
when convenient. Why do these wives seem to have little 
or nothing positive to say about their church? Surely the 
whole barrel of apples is not rotten. One strongly suspects 
that the pressure that these wives experience is for the 
most part the voice of their own inner discontents and 
prohibitions that have been projected onto the commu- 
nity. Fortunately, ministers* wives usually express positive 
attitudes about their churches. 

The Thorniest Problem: Time 

The frequency with which one particular topic occurs 
in conversations, interviews, and seminars with ministers* 
wives suggests that one of the most difficult problems con- 
fronting them is time. Their complaint is not so much that 
they have an insufficient amount of time in which to com- 


but are so involved 

In the of the that the has 

It is to 

BO in the Interview schedule 

of the no two of the wives 

up the To be sure, not all 

of their husbands, but 

the fact out of way to It 

it a problem or was a 

While professors now advise the young 

to a day off during the week, it appears 
the advice, A relatively small number of pastors 
reserve a day for rest and recre- 
the family. There are those pastors who say 
a day off but, all too frequently, closer question- 
ing they use this day doing something other 
it with the family. Monday or Thursday 
to be die day ministers usually take off, if indeed 
do. Consequently, it is revealing to note that many 
of the which ministers have to attend just happen 
to "be scheduled on one of these days. So 5 while the pastor 
may not be working at the church on his day off, neither is 
he with his family. The multiplicity of demands upon the 
minister's for administrative, pastoral, secretarial, 
even janitorial services leaves him with little time for 
his family unless lie makes time. Too frequently family 
time, like money budgeted for groceries, is what is cut 
short when unscheduled demands for time are made upon 
the pastor. Nancy Lawrence, in reviewing Blizzard's study 
of ministers, concluded, " In a nutshell, one of the minis- 
ter's biggest problems is the allotment of time." 16 The 
minister's wife concurs. 

HUSBA!tt>S 81 

What do the wives to say the of 

husbands? The by 

two wives are of It a 


At first I a hard time accepting if. It to me he 

was all of the time. Then I discovered other ministers" 

wives have the problem. At times I 

surely Mrs. Jones' problem isn't worse mine, and wonder 
why can't he spend more with me. 

The oae thing that I dislike most about being a minister's wife 
is that your husband doesn't have a day off like other men. He's 
on call twenty-four hours a day, something like a doctor. There 
are times when Henry's gone every Bight for two weeks in a 
row. Our children, especially, need more of Ms time. 

This is not to say that all wives find their husband's lack 
o time a problem. Some say that when you really enjoy 
your work you do not count time. One wife, expressing this 
attitude, said she used to tease her husband about not tak- 
ing time out, because he had promised to take Monday off 
after they married. " But/* she continued, " IVe told him 
that didn ? t last any longer than the honeymoon! " 

A closer look at the lives of those ministers* wives who 
express least frustration over their husbands* time fre- 
quently reveals that they have strong interests outside 
the home. They may be quite active directly in church ac- 
tivities, community projects, or other work outside the 
home. For instance, die wife quoted above taught school. 
She was, therefore, able to- cultivate interests and friends 
outside the church as well as the home. But this presents 
a real problem for wives who have small children at home 
and who do not want to leave them with a baby sitter. 

Some pastors, like other husbands, have difficulty really 


tlitii wlvi-^ Ji'tper for attention, X:>r 

ire able to t-nip itlil/: 1 with ilieir wives' need for uccu- 
iioikillv getting an'av from the lurav and church. The}' ea- 
aiiifiier the ^inidatlnii of a vnue variety of experiences 
and persons the workday. They are to get 

hr.ine! The wives, on the other hand, may enjoy a reason- 
of child care, but they liave 

not the variety of and of 

work They a 

in the Do they communicate this need to 

try. wife of men- 

to her the to get out alone with him, 

but she with success: 

111 this up and hell sa>, * e What do you 

You Vent to the potluclc at the church die other 

* But this is not what 1 mean, Potluck dinners are en- 

foyaWe, but I want the of enjoyment which conies from 

occasionally. . . Sometimes he decides to take 

an cff but about time some old biddy wJl phone 

with hurt because wasn't invited to something, and 

it Is all off. 

While the wives may express a sense of loss in not hav- 
ing more of their husbands' time for themselves, they also- 
concern on behalf of the children. The minister's 
schedule is of such a nature that even though he comes 
during the day, the school-age children do 'not get 
to see him. With the average pastor spending one to two 
evenings a week at home with the family, it is rather diffi- 
cult to develop as rich a rektionship with the children as 
is desirable. One minister's wife has reported that her six- 
year-old daughter assumed, until informed otherwise, that 
her father lived in the church. 17 

Fairchild and Wynn, in their study, Families in the 


Church: A Survey, wives 

of not having any family on 

which they count of the itself. 

Like the physician, the 

wives tell of 
broken to the to to a movie, 

or social event. try to 

to adjust to broken promises. A 

caused more minister's to a movie,, 

bal game, or other social event. One of her 

husband's breaking four successive with 

son to play a game of before it was finally played. 

The problem is particularly acute, some wives report, on 
Saturdays, when other children are put playing bal, fish- 
ing, or otherwise spending with their fathers, Satur- 
day for a minister is a day of final preparation for the 
Sunday services and one of his busiest days. Few they 
can afford time off. A day off in the middle of the week is 
BO solution since the children are in school. 

How do the children respond to the time that their 
fathers give them? Probably this is a study in itself. None- 
theless, their mothers think that, overtly at least, most 
seem to adjust fairly well to the situation. The common 
problems that they report have to do with disciplinary 
difficulties that the father might better handle, or that 
would not exist were the father at home more often. The 
problem of resentment toward the church on the part of 
the child is also reported by some wives. I first noted this 
problem in talking with ministers* wives who themselves 
were the daughters of ministers. About half of them ex- 
pressed the feeling that as girls they vowed never to marry 
a minister. When asked why, resentment toward the 
church and parents was apparent in some of their answers. 


life was neg 

tlie the mother, was 

too in 

do the tliis of time? The 

has to do it as an 

of the of having 

in In to the hus- 

band's so It be, then, younger 

are by his those who 

to this The advice that 

of give to a girl engaged to a minister 

has to do his absence from the home as a 

of her The frequency of their remarks about time 
the to which they went to advise a minister's 

jealous if he spent more time 
with her seem to indicate that 

this is not an easy adjustment to make. It is an important 
But the majority of the wives, like the wives of cor- 
executives, are evidently quite adaptable and 
a brave effort to cope with a difficult situation. 
It is interesting to note the responses of the wives when 
who demands that their husbands work seven days a 
week. In no instance has a wife whom I have interviewed, 
or had in a seminar, attributed the demand to the church. 
In fact, a few wives have told of church people requesting 
their husbands to take a day off. When one husband be- 
came pastor of his present church, he was told by the con- 
gregation that they expected him to take a day off each 
week. However, in the six years he has been there, his 
wife reported that he has taken off exactly three days, 
other than his vacation. *" Take it easy/" some parishioners 
advised him. " YouTl live longer! * 

If the church does not expect its pastor to work long 


hours, days a week, why lie do It? A 

is the lias a problem* 

That is 3 the multiplicity of his 

it difficult to ail of In a week. In 

he no to of 

of the pastoral and In ap- 

proximately two of the the 

is the only minister on the staff. 36 The In 

upon the pastor is partly attributable to the com- 

plexity of the modem church. The of knowledge 

and skills demanded of its pastor by the church 

has reached proportions undreamed of by Ms predecessors. 

William Whyte's analysis of motivational forces under- 
lying the business executive who works fifty to sixty hours 
a week, more than the company demands, may also pro- 
vide some insight into the pastor. He concluded that serv- 
ice is not the executive's basic motivation, though he may 
talk of it. Nor is it company pressure. Whyte says: w He 
speaks of himself and the demon within him. He works 
because his ego demands it,** 10 To quote one company 
president: " People are like springs; the energy you have 
within you has to come out one way or another. I would 
reaEy get in bad shape if I didn't work.* 20 This suggests 
that the minister too may be like a spring: he is a man 
with tremendous energies that must be expressed. This is 
not to discount the motivation he receives from a belief 
that he has been commissioned of God to perform a task 
It is to say that other factors may also be at work. 

Occasionally one hears of the minister who is absorbed 
in church work to the detriment of his family and who ra- 
tionalizes on the basis that " this is the Lord's work." Wynn 
observes that the pastor's ** sense of values needs constant, 
prayerful review lest he subjugate family welfare to ad- 


mi&istrivia [the trivia of administration] under the mis- 
assumption that these comprise the entire Kingdom 
of God!' 1 On this same point Wayne Gates makes this 

Real question may be raised as to the sincerity of a ... [min- 
ister] who uses his Christian calling as an excuse to neglect the 

basic physical and emotional needs' of his children. If a man 
"his own children's needs for affectionate tenderness, 
spiritual instruction, and economic security, he will have no 
basis for a genuinely pastoral care of the flock of God. 22 

Probably more understanding of their families on the 
of ministers, plus an effort to do a little " pastoral 
ministering " to their own families, would aid in dealing 
with this whole problem of family time. For those min- 
isters who view their own families as also being a part of 
God's Kingdom, profound new insights await them in 
the apostle Paul's phrase, "the church in thy house" 
(Philemon 2). 


This chapter has endeavored to explore the role atti- 
tudes of some ministers' wives toward their husbands* 
work. It has been noted that the average wife (if we may 
use the term) both feels and appears to be little, if any, 
more active directly in church work than any other active 
laywoman. However, by virtue of her role as minister's 
wife what she does is different from what the other women 
do. On the other hand, the wives think of themselves as 
being vitally involved in their husbands' work on the home 
front. They see their chief contribution as being suppor- 
tive, one that includes hearing him out, sharing ideas with 
him, and providing the type of home atmosphere to which 


he may retreat as a refuge from a busy and hectic schedule. 
This encompasses the primary thrust of their role and they 
give evidence of accepting it with relative ease and com- 
fort. The social psychologists would say that they have 
internalized their role and made it meaningful by a proc- 
ess of " dynamic elaboration.** 23 This accounts for what- 
ever comfort and ease they have in their role. 

Though ministers' wives are leading a life of activity 
within the church somewhat like that of other active lay- 
women, they are still constantly reminded of the fact that 
they are not simply other laywomen. The loneliness that 
they may experience helps to remind them of this fact. 
This loneliness is partly attributable to their feeling that 
it is unwise to establish close friendships within the 
church membership. It also has its roots in the fact that 
their husbands are gone from home much of the time. In 
addition, they, like their husbands, have a symbolic role 
which to a degree embodies the community conscience. 
All of these elements combine to set apart and isolate 
them. Another factor involved in their loneliness is the 
extensiveness of the role that they occupy. They are at 
all times and in all places ministers* wives. However, in 
contrast to this loneliness, these wives express in numer- 
ous ways the great meaning and satisfaction they find in 
their role. 

It is probably safe to say that no wife is without some 
conflict in the performance of her role. This is to be ex- 
pected. Ruth Benedict has noted that as long as persons 
must play several roles either simultaneously or in se- 
quence, they will, on occasion, have difficulty finding the 
right role at the right time. 2 * 

One area of conflict was noted in the wives* preference 
for the prestige and other concomitants of their role as 


ministers* wives, meanwhile preferring also the regular 
schedule of the " nine to five " man. It is evident that one 
of the most difficult problems that confronts them is family 
time. On the other hand, they referred to the fact that 
some of their deepest satisfactions are derived from work- 
ing with their husbands, and working with people. Asso- 
ciated with this but stated less frequently are the satisfac- 
tions connected with their role as the wife of a minister. 
Hence, there was conflict between the satisfactions of the 
role and the necessary sacrifices associated with its enact- 

Another area of conflict involved the 'discrepancy be- 
tween the ascribed role in one field and the ascribed role 
in another. A case in point was that of the professional 
church worker who married a minister. One of her chief 
problems appeared to be a conflict between the ascribed 
role which she, as a church worker, had accepted and 
internalized, and the ascribed role of the minister's wife. 
While there is reason to believe that such conflicts may 
not occur too frequently, their intensity is multiplied, 
since they involve the total personality and demand a re- 
orienting of one's self -concept. The conflict of roles ap- 
peared to be intensified when the background and training 
of the wife more nearly paralleled that of her husband, as 
in the case of a religious worker's marriage to a minister. 
The crux of the conflict seems to lie in what might be 
called a division of labor; that is, the line of demarcation 
between her role and her husband's is overlapping and 
vague the greater the overlapping, the greater die possi- 
bilities for conflict. 

Cultural anthropologists usually find that in primitive 
cultures, the roles of men and women are rather clearly 
defined. The man in one society may plant the yams, but 


their cultivation is strictly assigned to the women's role, 
Linton notes that when the sexes co-operate, as in the 
above example, the field of each is usually clearly de- 
fined. 25 Possibly the anthropologist's observations about 
delimiting roles provides an insight into the minister's 
wife's frequent reference to tc staying in the background." 
It suggests that this may be her way of coping with the 
division of labor. The physician or lawyer has no problem 
with his wife encroaching upon his field; however, with 
the minister, the temptation and possibility for the wife 
to transgress his field is a present reality. The accumulated 
wisdom of the profession has undoubtedly indicated that 
less conflict is involved, and the machinery of the church 
operates more smoothly, when the roles are delimited by 
defining the role of his wife as a background one. The 
frequent references in the literature, interviews, and other 
contacts with ministers* wives that speak of working from 
behind the scenes probably reflect the wisdom of this 

Occasionally, a conflict emerges in the form of a rather 
thorough rejection of one's role. The attempt to escape 
the performance of one's role can be a frustrating and 
lonely experience, for, as Linton observes, little sympathy 
is evoked by the person seeking to reject his role. 26 The 
wife who rejects her role obligations simply because of a 
distaste for them has considerably more difficulty than one 
who does so to assume another role, such as that of a 

The focus in this chapter upon ministers' wives and their 
husbands' work has been an arbitrary division. They live 
and move in an atmosphere which at once involves their 
home, family, church, and community. Any attempt to 
focus on one of these alone is purely an arbitrary and 


sometimes difficult, if not impossible, task. Granting this, 

if one shifts the focus from the husbands' work to the 
home, what is seen there? What is parsonage life like? 
What is the nature of family relationships? Aid what are 
the wives* attitudes about this realm of their existence? 
The subsequent chapter will attempt to answer these and 
other questions. 

Chapter IV 

Role Attitudes 

Toward Her Family Life 

1% /TINISTERS do not check their roles at the front door 
1_ V J- upon entering their homes. Parts of their roles are 
an ever-present reality to them, their wives, and children. 
Yet they are all members of the human race, and act and 
react much as do their fellow human beings. Perhaps they 
have more situations that demand reactions than the av- 
erage family. 

It is the purpose of this chapter to present the data rele- 
vant to the nature of family life within the homes of these 
wives of ministers. Attention will first be focused on their 
attitudes toward husband-wife relationships, and second, 
on certain aspects of life within the parsonage, such as its 
privacy. (The pasto/s home is variously known as the par- 
sonage, manse, pastorium, and rectory. For purposes of 
uniformity, the term parsonage will be used here. ) 


The Nature of the Relationship 

In the foregoing chapter it was seen that the wife's re- 
lationship is one of mutual sharing in her husband's work, 
though the main sphere of participation appears to be 
more of a supportive role in the home. Wives tend to think 



of their place as being in the background, but they are 
hardly cowering in the background; rather, the back- 
ground concept represents their manner o attempting to 
cope with an ever-present problem of the division of labor 
in a role that can become confused with that of their hus- 

While the Biblical concept of the wife as a helpmate 
appears to prevail throughout the husband-wife relation- 
ships, there are other indications that modern develop- 
mental ideas of interrelatedness are strongly entrenched. 
The traditional concept of the family views the father as 
the head of the house; the mother is entrusted with the 
care of the house and children; and in return for this love 
and care, the children owe their parents honor and obedi- 
ence. Developmental concepts of the family are based on 
interpersonal relations of mutual affection, companionship, 
and understanding. Associated with this is a recognition 
of individual capabilities, desires, and needs for the devel- 
opment of each member of the family, whether father, 
mother, or child. 1 

It is hardly possible in a culture that is as rapidly 
changing as ours, where the old and new commingle that 
one will have exclusively traditional or developmental con- 
cepts of husband-wife, or parent-child, relationships. Both 
exist side by side. It is, however, possible for one to hold 
and respond more generally to one or the other position. 
The seminars and interviews that I have conducted have 
not been specifically designed to explore particular ideas 
relevant to family relationships among minister's wives. 
Nonetheless, these experiences and contacts with them 
have produced indications as to their orientation in this 
Traditional ideas about husband-wife relationships are 


most usually expressed on the husband's being the head 
of the family. " I think the husband should be the head 
of the family," is a common expression of the wives. An- 
other traditional family concept is seen 'in a kind of defer- 
ence to the husband on the part of some wives. As one 
put it, " When John is home, he is king! " The idea that his 
schedule and his work always take precedence over hers or 
the family's is another manifestation of the traditional 
point of view. 

However, numerous expressions of a more modern de- 
velopmental approach to family relationships are also 
noted. The husband's desire for his wife to operate in the 
church and home at the level of her own interests and 
capabilities is one indication of this. For, as will be remem- 
bered, the encouragement of each family member to de- 
velop and express his own potentialities and needs is a 
cardinal idea in the modern approach to family relation- 
ships. "Developmental" husbands are more active in 
home functions than " traditional " husbands. The latter 
sees the home as strictly a woman's world. While it is diffi- 
cult to determine how much time pastor-husbands devote 
to helping around their homes, one third of the wives who 
were in the intensive interviews of my initial research 
spontaneously mentioned their husbands* helping in the 
kitchen, working with the children, doing the laundry, 
or performing other household work. As will be noted later 
in this chapter in the discussion on children, both hus- 
bands and wives express strong developmental concepts in 
their desires for the children to progress at their own pace. 
They want this pace to be dictated by the child's inter- 
ests and capabilities rather than by the fact that the father 
happens to be a minister. 

Wayne Gates has suggested that the number of married 


theological students since World War II whose wives 
have worked to finance their education has been a potent 
factor in bringing about changes in the parsonage. 2 While 
the wife works, the husband of necessity assumes responsi- 
bility for much of the housework. Upon taking a pastorate, 
he continues to do certain tasks around the house as a 
matter of course. But role conflicts can arise at this point. 
The wife may expect the husband to continue doing as 
much of the housework as he did while in seminary. She 
may also have difficulty adjusting to the role of a wife at 
home instead of a wife at work outside the home. 

Despite the grievances as to their husbands' time, noted 
in Chapter III, the distinct impression is that these, for the 
most part, are happy marriages. The wives frequently 
speak in glowing terms of their husbands. Occasionally 
a wife is embarrassed by her exuberance and makes some 
comment as, ** You can see I'm prejudiced about him! " 
When asked about the advice they would give to a girl 
engaged to a minister, nearly half in the above research 
suggested that she simply love him. " Maybe this sounds 
like Ma Perkins," one quipped, ** but I'd say for her to 
love him with all her heart. If she has this and a sense of 
Christian commitment, then I think she will get started 
all right/' 

It has already been noted that the wives encourage and 
support their husbands. But this is a relationship of mutual 
support and encouragement. For instance, a wife without 
a college education was frequently encouraged by her 
husband, who soothingly said, " You know more than most 
of these college girls, anyway." For a woman in a church 
full of women with college degrees, this was a healing 


Handling Hostilities 

The intimacies of his own home remind the minister 
how difficult it is to be a Christian in the midst of one's 
family. One of the problems that confronts him is coping 
with anger and resentment. By virtue of his role, he is not 
expected to express hostility toward others though anger 
is a normal response of all humans. Therefore, it becomes 
doubly important for him to have some source of release 
for these feelings. This appears to be provided at home. 

The wives say that they participate in their husbands' 
work by providing them with a place to give vent to their 
emotions. " At home he can say what he really feels about 
some plan or what someone said," observed a wife. When 
asked what the " place " of the minister's wife is, one re- 

She is to be a good wife to the man to whom she is married 
and care for his home. I think she also serves the purpose of 
letting him blow off some steam to her, and surely he has more 
to blow off than most people. [Why?] Well, because he can't 
blow it off to the people. 

Problems may arise out of the husband's hostile feel- 
ings' being displaced onto his wife personally. This may 
manifest itself as an attack upon the wife because she does 
not have a fresh white shirt ironed. In reality, he is seeth- 
ing within because his church board has squelched one of 
his pet projects. A redeeming kind of maturity demon- 
strated by one husband tinder these circumstances, his 
wife reports, is that at such times he will say with a pain- 
ful grin: ** Oh, don't mind me. I'm just under pressure." 
This indicates the objectivity and proficiency in commu- 
nication on the part of this couple and others like them. 


Still, rather than resenting his hostility, most wives seem 
to view their function as encouraging their husbands to 
express themselves, and they thus become listening ears. 

What happens to the hostilities engendered by the 
wives' workaday experiences? When asked about this, the 
wives who mention their husbands " blowing off steam ** 
at home agree that this is a reciprocal relationship. There 
are also secondary outlets that some mention, such as 
** banging on the piano/* and even ironing! The latter was 
somewhat puzzling until it occurred to me that putting an 
iron to the seat of the husband's pants might be very thera- 
peutic! The wives appear to accept the fact that the ex- 
pression of such hostilities is one aspect of every marriage. 
It is, indeed! Duvall and Hill have aptly underlined this 
as a legitimate function of marriage in their book When 
Jou Marry: 

The modern couple will expect that in marriage they have a 
place of security and intimacy where they are free to behave 
like human beings with the normal variety of emotions. The 
workaday world, organized as it is, does not permit the frank 
expression of resentment, vanity, jealousy, and selfish ambition 
along with tenderness and love, all of which exist in the normal 
person. The individual must control his annoyances and his 
affections. He must often act like something more than human 
to get along in our complex industrial society. If he flies off 
the handle at his boss, he may lose his job. There needs to be 
some place, however, where the individual can give vent to his 
annoyances and be himself, and that place seems to be in mar- 
riage. If there is that kind of cantankerousness in a marriage, 
the couple should chalk it down as proof that their marriage 
is performing one of its main functions providing a place to 
let off steam and re-establish emotional balance. If a marriage 
is so fragile that it must be maintained by the same kind of 
artificial manners that keeps an office force functioning, it is 
pretty precariously based. 3 


Reference to handling the type of husband-wife hostil- 
ities common to marriage is made by some wives. They 
frequently speak of being able to "talk through" their 
difficulties. The remark of one wife is illustrative: 

You should hear some of the fights we have here. John and I 
have found that if we go ahead and have our fuss, then we can 
settle down and talk about it. We have had our share of dif- 
ferences, but we have always been able to talk them through. 

These types of arguments are what Willard Waller calls 
"productive quarrels/' This type of quarrel, he states, 
" leads to a redefinition of the situation by virtue of which 
the marriage is made stronger." On the other hand, quar- 
rels can be destructive in that the hostility is directed at 
the whole person and " destroys the necessary rationaliza- 
tions and fictions by which the person lives and the mar- 
riage persists/ 74 No doubt there are times when it is 
difficult to distinguish between the two types. It may be 
even more difficult to keep a productive quarrel from de- 
generating into a destructive one. 

Sharing on the Deeper Levels 

A primary requisite for success in the ministry is the 
ability to express oneself verbally. To paraphrase a Bibli- 
cal verse, the minister lives not by bread alone but by 
every word proceeding from his mouth. (This, of course, 
says nothing about his relationships to people.) There is 
evidence that the minister's wife, too, is a rather verbal 
person. In nearly two thirds of the interviews included in 
my basic research, we went beyond the scheduled hour 
and a half because the wives continued to expand upon 
the questions. The interviews usually had to be arbitrarily 
terminated because of a subsequently scheduled interview. 


It has already been indicated that ministers' wives have 
a deep and satisfying sense of sharing in their husbands' 
church work. There is .also a meaningful participation in 
their home life. Scenes of a husband and wife sharing in 
a meaningful conversation, reading, listening to music, or 
otherwise sharing together, are an integral part of the dis- 
cussions with ministers' wives concerning their more per- 
sonal life together. This frequently takes the form of the 
wife listening to the husband and sharing with him some 
of the problems of the parish. This is one of the common 
expectations, that the husbands have of them. ** The min- 
ister needs someone to talk to," observed one wife, " be- 
cause he carries the burdens of the whole church." While 
the wives seem to expect and enjoy this type of interaction 
with their husbands, one suspects that this could, in more 
extreme cases, have an unhealthy impact upon the wives' 
own mental health. An example of this is seen in the case 
of one pastor who went home every evening and unbur- 
dened himself of the day's cares onto his wife. His wife, in 
turn, became so involved in this that she lay awake at 
night, upset and unable to sleep long after her husband, 
having purged himself of his problems, had relaxed and 
gone to sleep. All of this simply underlines the fact that 
there are limits to which a wife can, or should, be expected 
to bear the cares and burdens of her husband unless she 
herself has someone to whom she can turn. 

James Robinson, in his book Adventurous 'Preaching 
asserts that the minister needs a confessor. 5 He does his 
wife! The minister's wife, too, need as confessor. The need 
to have some person to whom to talk is frequently ex- 
pressed by pastors' wives. One wife wistfully put it this 
way: " I wish I had a pastor. A minister's wife doesn't have 
one, you know." 


The wife, mentioned above, who was unable to go to 

sleep is admittedly an extreme example. There are less 
extreme, but distressing, experiences that some wives have 
and yet this, opportunity to share together some of their 
husbands' concern can be deeply rewarding. It is one of 
those things which bind a couple together. This may take 
place late at night over a cup of coffee after the husband 
comes home. With children in the home, this is one of the 
few opportunities they have to relax together: 

Dave usually comes in about eleven at night and we sit down 
with a cup of coffee and talk about the events of the day or 
whatever else is on our minds and just have a wonderful time. 

This wife's phrase ** our minds " emphasizes the fact that 
this sharing is a mutual experience. It is a two-way street 
In this sense, the husbands are, to some degree, the wives* 

The impression received from most of the wives is that 
these are couples who, for the most part, enjoy each oth- 
er's company. They like the stimulation and relaxation of 
a chat together on a wide variety of topics. In all of this 
there seems to be more than mere verbal exchange, for 
beneath the words there is communicated a sense of ac- 
ceptance, love, belonging, and understanding. 

Possibly this ability to discuss things together, both posi- 
tively and negatively, accounts for die relatively success- 
ful and happy marriages of ministers. James H. S. Bossard 
quotes a study conducted by the English physician Eustace 
Chesser concerning the marital relationship of 6,251 
women. 6 Dr. Chesser found, among other things, that 
happily married couples had the same problems (though 
not as frequently) as unhappily married ones. However, 
one of the chief factors in the adjustments of the happily 


married group seemed to be their ability to communicate 
about their problems, A common experience with marriage 
counselors is the discovery that, in essence, both partners 
seek common goals but the lines of communication be- 
tween them have become blocked so that each is unable to 
" get through " to the other. Conflict ensues. One of the 
chief functions of the counselor is to aid them in their 
ability not only to talk with each other but also to get be- 
yond words to a deeper understanding of each other. The 
degree to which a pastor and his wife are able to commu- 
nicate on the deeper levels, to that degree their marriage is 
strengthened. Without it, even minor irritations are fertile 
soil for major conflicts. 

Another positive aspect of ministers* wives* ability to 
share meaningful discussions with their husbands is that 
it encourages them to grow together. Occasionally there 
are those wives whose problems seem to lie in the fact 
that their husbands* interests, ideas, and tastes have out- 
grown them. For instance, one pastor's wife, having this 
problem, was a high school graduate and had worked to 
support him while he attended the seminary. Presently, 
her interests were focused at home with two small chil- 
dren. His education had been one of the prime factors in 
altering his thoughts, tastes, and social skills. Lacking the 
broadened horizons associated with further education, she 
was still operating on much the same level of interests 
and thought which she had had at the time of their mar- 
riage. Her ability to participate with him in the inter- 
change of ideas was thus limited and his education only 
served to magnify her own insecurity with just a high 
school diploma. 

The interest on the part of most wives of pastors in cur- 
rent social and theological issues seems to indicate they 


are growing with their husbands. Their participation in 
work and discussions is probably a major factor in this 
growth. This view was expressed by one wife who re- 
marked, ** He has kept me abreast o theological thinking.' 9 
" You might say/* she continued, " that he has been my 
teacher; 9 * Some husbands wish their wives would read 
more to maintain their knowledge of current issues. The 
presence of small children, among other things, makes it 
difficult for more erudite reading. " I do wel if I get the 
Sunday paper read/' is the experience of more than one 

As has been observed in this section, the mutually satis- 
fying experience of sharing with their husbands the vari- 
ous interests, problems, and concerns of a pastorate seems 
to be a strong and healthy characteristic of husband-wife 
relationships in ministers' families. Though, as noted, it can 
have its hazards. 

Privacy in the Parsonage 

Incidents in which the privacy of the pastor's- home has 
been invaded without so much as a knock on the door are 
mentioned in the literature on ministers' wives. One au- 
thor asserts that many parishioners view the parsonage 
much as they view the post office or any other public 
building: they pay for its upkeep and are, therefore, en- 
titled to walk in when they please. 7 Do such attitudes still 
prevail? Do people really walk in unannounced? There are 
probably isolated situations and incidents of this, but if 
this ever existed to any extent, it does not seem to be so 
now. Only one wife in my initial research reported that 


anyone had entered without knocking, and this intruder 
was a single, senile old lady. 

While the modern minister's wife does not seem to be 
bothered by visitors waBdng in unannounced, most of 
them will agree that life in the parsonage is " fish-bowl 
living. 8 * Their reaction to this idea is varied. The wife who 
mentioned the old lady walking in without knocking re- 
ported that she and her husband occasionally watch tele- 
vision at night with the lights out and drapes drawn in 
order to appear absent from home. This lack of privacy 
is the thing some ministers* wives dislike most. * I don't 
like so much of our lives to be public: our salary, how we 
spend our time, everything we do/' is an opinion that 
would be seconded by many wives. One wife said that 
being on display so much made her feel like a monkey in 
a cage! 

While it may be irritating and disconcerting at times, 
most wives seem to accept this as one inevitable aspect of 
their role. Their lives are public domain. For the most 
part, ministers' wives are able to integrate this into then- 
life patterns in such a manner that it is no serious prob- 
lem. ** It's a part of the work," said one wife, " and you 
get used to it." Another responded by quoting a nationally 
known political figure who reportedly said, " After living 
in a goldfish bowl a while, you get like the goldfish you 
just don't give a hang! " The wives would likely agree with 
a group of public figures who stated that a person who is 
undertaking to live in the public eye must also be prepared 
to accept the fact that a certain amount of one's private 
life will be open to the scrutiny of the community. 8 

While some wives view the interest of the community 
in their private Eves as a kind of snooping, there are those 
who say that this may be more of a " friendly concern " 


on the part of the people. For, as they note, tibe same peo- 
ple who look into the fish bowl are also tibe same ones who 
rise to the occasion to meet the need of an emergency. 

The size and structure of the community is an important 
factor in the privacy which the minister's wife experiences. 
Some wives note that they have more privacy in their pres- 
ent city pastorate than when their husbands were pas- 
tors in small or rural communities. This is to be expected. 
The larger the community., tibe more anonymity its mem- 
bers enjoy, or suffer. Another factor has to do with the 
proximity of tibe parsonage to the church building. One 
third of the parsonages in the initial research were lo- 
cated from two blocks to three miles from the church. 
The other two thirds were located either next door to tibe 
church or within a block's distance. The wives who lived 
away from the church felt that this distance reduced tibe 
number of parishioners who visited during the day. One 
wife, whose church had recently bought a new parsonage 
away from the church building, noted that the new loca- 
tion afforded them a marked increase in privacy. 

A factor related to privacy that might be overlooked has 
to do with the particular ministers wife involved. This is 
the personal equation; that is, those wives who feel their 
privacy has not been violated are frequently those who do 
not encourage, and sometimes actively discourage, parish- 
ioners from visiting simply to pass the time of day. For in- 
stance, one wife with whom I talked reported that when 
her phone rings or people come to the door, she attends 
to their business but does not encourage them to stay on 
" for a lot of chitchat/' She hastened to note that she is not 
rigid in this, for if she senses that someone wants to talk, 
she sits down and hears him out if he has a problem, or just 
otherwise enjoys the person's visit. Then there are other 


wives of ministers who encourage visits at inconvenient 
times by inviting parishioners to wait in the parsonage 
after a church service until a person comes to pick them 
up. This probably sounds rather inhospitable but if even 
a smaE percentage of the membership of a large church 
drops by the parsonage for a friendly visit, the pastor's 
wife is not likely to get much of her own work done. Few 
other wives in the community are known by as many peo- 
ple as is she. One wife summed up what is being said here 
by saying, "Many ministers' wives bring much of this 
[kck of privacy] on themselves because unknowingly they 
encourage it, or else they do not know how to discour- 
age it." 

Another facet of this personal equation mentioned 
above is that one's personality make-up preconditions 
one's interpretation of a particular act or remark. Suppose 
a parishioner remarks: " We saw that your lights were out 
kst night I guess you were gone.** Is this snooping or 
friendly concern? A wife who needs a lot of privacy may 
interpret it as snooping. Another wife who likes to know 
that people think of her may take it as friendly concern. 
So the same remark can be interpreted in several different 
ways, depending on the particular personality of the wife 
perceiving the remark. 

The wives, then, with whom I have had contact gen- 
erally have the attitude that while life in the parsonage is 
something of a glasshouse existence, it is not uncomfort- 
ably so. There are certain wives for whom this is a problem 
and they mention it as the thing they like least about their 
role. Some factors can minimize the feeling of being on 
display, such as locating the parsonage farther from the 
church. In the final analysis, however, the minister's wife 
herself is probably the key to a reasonable amount of 


privacy. Wives who express this attitude think that this 
can be done tactfully and without offense. 

Children in the Parsonage 

The pages of history bear testimony to the fact 
through the centuries anxious parents have complained of 
wayward, disobedient children and of the difficulties of 
rearing a family. Still,, many would agree that the com- 
plexities of modem life confront the twentieth-century 
parent with new and more difficult problems in child rear- 
ing than those confronted by our predecessors. Public 
figures have even more difficult problems in rearing their 
children. Not only their lives, but the lives of their chil- 
dren, are open to public scrutiny. The failures and short- 
comings of their sons and daughters take on unrealistic 
proportions. This is particularly true when the * sin * oc- 
curs in the area of the parents' specialization. The coach's 
son who fails to make the team, the policeman's son caught 
in a crime, the minister's son convicted of moral laxity, 
are all sins magnified at the hands of public opinion. One 
writer notes that fish bowls magnify the size of fish and 
suggests that those who live fish-bowl lives must be pre- 
pared to have trivial incidents exaggerated into occur- 
rences of major proportions. 9 As a public figure, such in- 
cidents are not unusual to the minister. A snide remark by 
his son to a parishioner can foment a crisis. 

It is interesting to note that of the four wives included 
in my initial research who were daughters of ministers two 
reported that as girls they promised themselves never to 
marry a minister. One felt this was because her parents 
were " gone all the tune," which threw many household 
responsibilities upon her. The other wife, who had a rigid 
and authoritarian father, resolved never to marry a min- 


ister because as a girl she was left out of many activities 
engaged in by her peers. Such simple foys as a chocolate 
soda on Sunday afternoon were strictly taboo. She was 
exhorted to be an example for the other children. ** But/* 
she observed, " I could never see that the world was being 
revolutionized by my example." Neither of the two ex- 
pressed a sense of call to be a minister's wife and both 
stated that they had married their husbands not because 
they were ministers, but because they were attracted to 
them as. persons. 

When asked about rearing a family in a parsonage, min- 
isters* wives speak of both the advantages and disadvan- 
tages. Though expressed in different words, the two dis- 
advantages most frequently enumerated are: too much 
attention is showered upon the children; and more is ex- 
pected of their children than of other children. The three 
advantages most frequently mentioned are: the develop- 
ment of social skills through contact with many people; 
the intellectual stimulation from good books and interest- 
ing visitors in the home from around the world; and the 
cultural advantages of good music, travel, and other broad- 
ening experiences. It is interesting to note that the wives 
less frequently mention the advantage of religious ideals 
and training in the home, though the literature frequently 
mentions this among the first advantages. Not one of the 
wives in the initial research mentioned this advantage. The 
reason for this may be that this aspect of their lives is so 
much a part of them that they fail to take special note of 
it. The minister and his family may be practicing less con- 
scious righteousness and responding more to those reli- 
gious values that have become integrated into their total 
personalities. It may also represent a reaction to the con- 
cept of the poor minister and his family who, though 


destitute of worldly goods, are almost obnoxiously wealthy 
in things of the spirit. Again, it may represent a shift in 
values away from the religious to the secular, such as so- 
cial poise, intellectual skills, and cultural tastes. 

There are those wives who verbalize the feeling that 
the church and community expect more of their children 
than of other children. They are expected to know more 
Bible, be more obedient, and be more active in church 
activities than other children. How insistent these expecta- 
tions are is difficult to determine. Apparently no strong 
pressures are exerted unless the children manifest rather 
radical behavior. Most wives seem to feel that so long as 
their children live much like other children in the church 
and community, no problem is incurred. The feelings of 
this group of wives might well be summed up in the obser- 
vation of one minister's wife who said, ** It is not so much 
that people expect more of the parsonage children as it 
is that they are more aware of them than of most children 
in the congregation/ 2 " 10 

The parents themselves may be partly to blame for 
some of the pressures. One wife reported that the con- 
gregation expected their six-year-old son to stand at the 
church door each Sunday and shake hands with departing 
parishioners. Further questioning seemed to indicate that 
the parents themselves had originally instituted the prac- 
tice, which delighted the people. The congregation now 
expected it by force of habit, not that this was a role ex- 
pectation of the minister's son. It is probably safe to as- 
sume that the parents derived some personal satisfaction in 
having such a <c little minister." 

" I want my children to live as nearly normal lives as 
other children/* is an attitude expressed by the preponder- 
ance of wives with children. Those whose homes are lo- 


cated away from the church think that this is more easily 
accomplished than when they live next to the church. 
Then too, the community itself is an important factor. One 
aspect of the increased privacy afforded by larger com- 
munities is that the children tend to become more " Jack ** 
" Jane " and less " the preacher's lad/' Regardless of 
the location of the parsonage or nature of the community, 
some wives feel that the parents themselves are a most sig- 
nificant factor in determining the degree to which the 
ministerial role influences the lives of their children. In 
keeping with this idea, some of the more recent literature 
is urging the minister and his wife to accept the responsi- 
bility for seeing that the children are not exploited by the 
community. 11 

Wives with whom I have worked are unanimously 
agreed, without a single exception, that the admonition, 
"You can't do that because you're a minister's child" is 
both bad psychology and theology. "That's one of the 
most effective methods I know for inviting rebellion/' one 
wife emphatically said. A seminary professor advised his 
students, " If you don't have any better reason than that, 
then don't say a thing! ** Though wives verbalize this opin- 
ion, it is difficult to know how effectively they are able to 
follow through on this in everyday life. It is certainly pos- 
sible to tacitly communicate to a child the " you can't do 
that " attitude without actually using the words. In some 
instances I have posed a hypothetical situation in which 
wives were asked to suppose that their child wanted to 
participate in some activity frowned upon by the church 
community, such as joining a jazz band of dubious reputa- 
tion. All the wives agree that there are extremes that they 
would actively try to prevent. Two of eight wives in one 
group session said they would actively try to prevent their 


child from joining the band, apparently by using pressure. 
The other six said they probably would not be in favor of 
having their child play in such a band, but would not abso- 
lutely prevent it by force. These six wives said they hoped 
that they had so reared their children and instiled prin- 
ciples that they could make their own decisions without 
parental interference. However, the difficulty of predicting 
one's actions was recognized by one wife with small chil- 
dren who said, ** It's hard to know what you would do, but 
that's what I hope I would do." 

It is usually not until the minister's children reach ad- 
olescence that problems arise which might seriously em- 
barrass him. At this time, moving out from the home into 
the larger community affords a myriad of opportunities for 
involvements that could reflect upon their f ather's position, 

A problem that confronts all ministers' families at some 
time is the matter of dealing with an obstreperous -child, 
who does not want to attend church. Discussions with 
wives of ministers show divided opinions. Most seem to 
agree that with young children, the parents are justified in 
exerting some pressure for attendance. Some wives in this 
group try to communicate to the child the idea that there 
are some things that they do as a family, and because he 
is a member of the family, he will attend church too. This 
does not preclude endeavoring to understand why the 
child does not want to go. One wife said she did not think 
children ought to have any more choice about attending 
church than they do public school. 

Coping with adolescent children who do not want to 
attend presents another problem. A few think the chil- 
dren should still be made to attend whether they want to 
or not. Most think that a reasonable amount of persuasion 
can be. used, but that they should not be forced to attend. 


One wife recalled that when this problem with an adoles- 
cent child had confronted them, they had stopped and ex- 
amined themselves, their religion, and their relationship 
with the child. They decided they needed to let the child 
have the increased freedom and responsibility associated 
with adolescence. They made some " adjustments " in their 
attitudes and rektionship with the child (maybe the term 
is a poor one to use in this case), and the problem eventu- 
ally resolved itself. " You don't force such things on peo- 
ple/' this wife said, " you instill them/* One way in which 
she and her husband had tried to accomplish this was 
through family discussions, especially at mealtime. This 
was presented as a stimulating time, full of fond memories, 
for the children were now all married. Somewhat nostalgi- 
cally she continued: ** We talked of everything under the 
sun. You'd be surprised at some of the things we talked 
about/' This ability to communicate with each other is the 
key, Bossard asserts, to instilling ideals and ideas in chil- 
dren's minds. 12 

The Minister's Wife and Homemaking 

The traditional role of woman in Western culture is syn- 
onymous with that of homemaker. The sphere in which 
she is expected to rule and excel is bounded by those ac- 
tivities pertaining to the maintenance and care of the 
home. These activities cooking, sewing, house cleaning, 
child care have been so closely identified with the femi- 
nine role that Florence Hollis, in a study of marital con- 
flicts in women, used "pleasure in homemaking " as a char- 
acteristic of femininity. 13 

The rise of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth 
century was accompanied by increasing discontent among 
women with their traditional role. The cry of the feminist 


movement was for equality with man, though Max Lemer 
asserts it was not so much a cry for equality as for identifi- 
cation as a person. 14 Some think that the changes in sex- 
role patterns accompanying the industrial revolution have 
hit women hardest because this abrupt change destroyed 
their traditional basis for self-respect, their sense of value 
to society. 15 It did this by undermining some of the basic 
functions of the home economic, educational, recrea- 
tional, etc. One of the first of these functions to be re- 
moved from the home to a factory was the spinning and 
weaving of cloth. The transfer of these functions left 
women with a sense of uselessness. The solution for their 
dilemma was to move into a man's world. 

In spite of woman's rebellion against her traditional role 
and the confusion of roles associated with the rebellion, 
Margaret Mead asserts that " the home is still, as it has 
been through the ages, woman's natural habitat." 16 Tilla 
Vahanian observes that women still wish to be considered 
feminine and may desire to develop homemaking skills, 
not so much because of their intrinsic value, but as tan- 
gible tokens of femininity. 17 Consequently, women being 
interviewed may unconsciously tend to give the impres- 
sion that they enjoy homemaking more than the facts 
would warrant. 

In my research on role expectations of ministers' wives 
no question in the interview schedule dealt with home- 
making, but few wives failed to touch upon the subject. 
The most frequent initial response, made by nearly two 
thirds of the wives, to the question of what their husbands 
expected of them concerned housekeeping. The ideas of a 
clean, neat, orderly, peaceful home were involved in these 
responses. The initial phrasing of the husbands' expecta- 
tions in terms of the care of home would seem to indicate 


that the wives perceived their role in a more traditional 
sense. But it is likely that the wives of most laymen in the 
church would do the same. Only two of the thirty wives 
felt that their husbands expected too much of them so far 
as housekeeping was concerned. One of these remarked: 
" He wants a model tome, but I say that that land of home 
exists only in the movies. One piece of paper on the floor 
upsets "Mm. With two kids, I can't keep a perfect house." 
This probably reflects perfectionistic tendencies on the 
part of this husband. Although these two wives undoubt- 
edly straightened the room before the interview, both. 
homes were well kept. 

The number of negative remarks about housework that 
one now hears and reads raises the question of how min- 
isters* wives feel about this aspect of their role. Only three 
of the thirty wives spontaneously mentioned distaste for 
housework, though the homes of all three appeared neat 
and well-appointed. This does not necesarily mean that 
the others found housework a meaningful experience. For 
some reason, they simply did not mention it. Possibly it 
was not a sufficiently pressing problem to be in their 
awareness. There are probably no wives who completely 
escape the sense of being caught on a treadmill of routine 
housekeeping. One of the three wives mentioned above 
might well express the feelings of many others: 

I certainly don't experience any sense 'of self -fulfillment in the 
routine aspects of housekeeping. I can get creative in cooking 
occasionally, but at other times I do it because it has to be 
done. It's a real grind- 
One of the differences between the three wives and the 
other wives is that they seem to experience little, if any, 
sense of satisfaction or achievement in housework. The 
background of these women throws an interesting light 


on their responses. The first wife had been a deaconess in 
her church for ten years prior to marriage. She and her 
husband had no children. The extensiveness of her involve- 
ment in church work led her to say that their church felt 
it had two pastors. The second wife had been a pre-Iaw 
student in college, and remarked that one of her chief con- 
cerns when her husband decided, subsequent to their mar- 
riage, to enter the ministry was that she had always en- 
joyed associating with men more than with women. As a 
minister's wife she knew she would be expected to attend 
the women's meetings. Generally, her past record sug- 
gested a degree of rejection of her feminine role, of which 
housework is a part. However, so far as could be deter- 
mined from the interview, she seemed to have made a good 
adjustment to her role as a minister's wife. 

The third wife had been a professional church worker 
prior to marriage. Some of the difficulties encountered by 
her and her husband in adjusting to each other have al- 
ready been discussed. After mentioning that she had been 
a psychology major in college, she remarked, "Now I 
know what they mean about the businesswoman having a 
difficult time adjusting to home life after marriage, be- 
cause this is exactly what I am experiencing." The back- 
ground and experiences of this wife had been of such a 
nature that she had failed to acquire role expectations as- 
sociated with homemaking. She had been building a con- 
cept of herself as that of a full-time church worker, not a 
wife. As a result, she was handicapped in fulfilling her role 
as a wife. Relevant to this, Theodore Sarbin notes: ** A per- 
son cannot enact a role for which he lacks the necessary 
role expectations. These must be acquired through ex- 
perience." 18 Until her marriage a little more than a year 
before r her role expectations had been those of a church 


worker and she perceived herself in tills manner. As Sarbin 
notes, she was now confronted with learning new ones 
through experience. In a sense she was having to unlearn 
old ones. She gave evidence of moving in that direction 
and of integrating them into her life pattern. 

Though wives Bnd some sense of satisfaction working in 
the home, there is increasing recognition by family life 
authorities that aE wives need to have some time outside 
the home, away from what one mother has called the ** un- 
diluted companionship of immature minds." 19 However, 
as Dr. Spock, of child-care fame, notes, a woman's desire 
and need for fellowship outside the home does not neces- 
sarily indicate a rejection of her role as a wife and 
mother. 20 The complaint leveled by most women at work 
in the home falls precisely" at the point of its monotony, 
but the minister's wife may be too closely associated with 
her husband's work for that to provide the needed change 
of pace. 


This chapter has endeavored to explore attitudes of some 
ministers* wives toward their family life. It has been noted 
that both traditional and developmental attitudes are ex- 
pressed in their husband-wife relationships, though in 
keeping with the rest of our society, the attitudes tend to 
be more developmental than traditional. Recent socio- 
logical phenomena, such as the increased number of mar- 
ried theological students whose wives work, are probably 
partly responsible for an increasingly modern develop- 
mental concept of family rektionships. 

The relationship of the minister's wife to her husband 
appears to a large degree to be supportive: she becomes a 
listening ear into which he pours the problems and anxie- 


ties of his work. This may increase her sense o participa- 
tion in his work,. There is also a danger that the wife may 
lack a " confessor " and be left to bear alone the anxieties 
generated by her husband's catharsis. 

Wives of ministers generally conceive of their primary 
role as being within the home. From the home they are 
able to participate in their husbands 7 work. Their ability 
to feel an important part of his work while in the home is 
probably of consequence. In Of Men and Women, Pearl 
Buck argues that our industrial society has robbed woman 
of the ability to feel a part of, and participate with, her 
husband by removing him to an office or factory remote 
from the home. The only way in which she can participate 
with him now has been to follow him into a man's world. 21 
Whether or not one concurs with Mrs. Buck's conclusions, 
the role of the minister's wife is such that she is brought 
into vital contact with, and has a rather detailed knowl- 
edge of, her husband's work. Possibly she has less need to 
move into the masculine world in order to experience a 
sense of participation with her husband. 

The consensus of opinion seems to be that life in the 
parsonage is fish-bowl living. The average wife seems to 
accept this as an inevitable aspect of being the wife of a 
public figure, though she feels she is entitled to some 
privacy. By a few wives, however, the lack of privacy is 
keenly felt. Larger communities and a parsonage located 
away from the church building facilitate privacy. How- 
ever, some wives express the opinion that the individual 
wife herself is an important factor in determining how 
much the community invades the world comprising her 

The parsonage child is confronted with both its ad- 
vantages and its disadvantages. He too shares the lime- 


light in which Ms. parents live. The minister's wife, though, 
is concerned that her children live as nearly normal lives 
as possible. Again the personal factor is important, for 
some think that it is the parents* responsibility to mini- 
mize the disadvantages by refusing to let the community 
exploit the children, or by refusing to exert undue pressure 
upon them simply because they are the minister's children. 
The wives who seem to have the most difficulties work- 
ing in the home are those whose backgrounds ,have 
equipped them with the role expectations of a worker out- 
side the home. Their plight is akin to that of one girl who, 
after graduation from college, wrote back to the president 
that she had been educated to be a successful man and 
now that she was married, she was having to learn how 
to be a woman. 22 One also wonders whether those wives 
who had difficulties with work in the home were able to 
make a distinction between housework washing, clean- 
ing, etc. and homemaking, in which every household 
task is seen in the broader perspective of its effect upon 
family relationships. Ray Baber notes that those wives who 
equate housekeeping with homemaking have difficulty 
achieving a sense of fulfillment in the home. But, he con- 
tinues, those who are able to view work in the home in its 
larger context are the c< ones who truly make homemaking 
a profession." 23 

Chapter V 

Role Attitudes 

Toward Her Church and Community 

THE MINISTER'S WIFE lives and moves in the larger 
context of her church and community. She is caught 
up into this sphere of her larger existence to such an ex- 
tent as to merit a careful exploration of some of her atti- 
tudes. " No man is an Hand, intire of it self e " * is a line 
she finds easy to comprehend. Since the various threads of 
life are inextricably interwoven, some attitudes involving 
the community have been considered under discussions 
in previous chapters. Among these have been attitudes 
toward special friends in the church, privacy, the children, 
and participation in the women's work. This chapter pro- 
poses to focus on those areas more specifically involving 
herself and the church and community. 


A person who works with ministers* wives is impressed 
by the numb*r of positive attitudes expressed by the wives 
toward their church. In spite of some expressions of dis- 
content pertaining to certain aspects of their relationship 
with the church, the predominant theme is strongly posi- 
tive. Only one wife in the initial research expressed 



strongly negativistic attitudes toward her church through- 
out the interview. Her sole positive expression was that 
some people enjoyed her playing the organ during the 
regular organist's illness, but she hastened to say that she 
knew some were saying, " She's just showing off." 

Several pages could easily be taken up with remarks of 
appreciation for their churches made by the ministers' 
wives with whom I have worked. The following two are 
Illustrative of these: 

I really never expected a church to be so nice. ... I expected 
them to be critical and want me to do everything in the church, 
but I find they want me to be a wife pretty much like any other 

I enjoy the contacts with the people most. I think there aren't 
any finer people in the world than church people, especially 
the more active ones. 

Possibly this is taking more liberty with the data than 
is warranted, but the generally positive attitudes that min- 
isters* wives have toward the people of their church seems 
to indicate a healthy sense of self -acceptance. Arthur Jer- 
sild indicates that there is a high correlation between self- 
acceptance and acceptance of others. 2 If this is so, the posi- 
tive attitudes expressed by these wives may tell us much 
more about themselves than about the people of their 
churches. It will remain for future research to determine 
whether or not there seems to be a higher degree of self- 
acceptance among ministers' wives than among the popu- 
lation as a whole, or among the wives of other prof essional 

Among the types of role performances that the wives 
perceive their church people expecting is friendliness. The 
church "and community, they think, expect them to be per- 


sons with whom they can get acquainted easily, who have 
no air of superiority, and who possess a certain poise. Ru- 
dolph Norden notes that friendliness on the part of the 
pastor is one of the basic expectations of churches. 3 This 
also seems to be true of their wives. The ability of a min- 
ister's wife to relate comfortably and easily to people, to 
put them at ease, is one of her greatest assets. If she lacks 
friendliness., she is likely to be adjudged a ponTyriinister's 
wife by the congregation, even though she may be a 
highly competent person in other respects. One pastors 
wife who reported feeling inadequate in their upper- 
middle-class church, so far as her dress and home decora- 
tions were concerned, voiced the opinion that her ability 
to meet the congregation on a friendly basis compensated 
for her lack in other areas. The experience of many pas- 
tors and their families is that churches will contend with 
a lot of poor preaching and fumbled administrative balls 
if the pastor and his wife are outgoing and friendly. 

Ministers* wives also speak of the pride that the congre- 
gation takes in its pastor's wife. In some instances this 
pride seems to be rather paternalistic, as indicated by the 
wife of a young pastor in a new church who said their 
church looked upon them as "kids.** Some mention the 
sense of pride that parishioners have in introducing them 
to strangers: " This is our pastor's wife! " Another said, " I 
think the church takes pride in me when I have a part in 
interchurch or community activities and do well." Some 
mention their grooming in noting this pride: "I like to 
dress well and I know our church appreciates it. ... 
They like for you to look nice when you're introduced, not 
like you live in the poorhouse." It is revealing that some 
wives mention the church's pride in them in connection 
with remarks pertaining to grooming. This probably re- 


fleets the emphasis in O'lir culture upon clothes and their 
use as a criterion in evaluating a person. As one wife re- 
marked about dress, "This [grooming] is a superficial 
thing, but superficial count among these people." 

To some degree, churches may place their pastor's wife 
on a pedestal. At least a few wives feel this way. One spoke 
of hearing a layman assert in an address that the layman 
does not want his pastor to be on the same level with him; 
he needs someone to look up to. She felt that the congrega- 
tion wants the minister's wife, too, on a pedestal, " Some- 
how/* she said, " they seem to want to feel that you are a 
cut above them and in some mysterious way are not sub- 
ject to the tensions and problems that beset them/* It may 
be that this tendency to elevate the minister's wife to a 
pedestal is more pronounced in smaller communities than 
in larger ones. There is a double standard in some com- 
munities: one for the minister's wife, and one for the lay- 
woman. An example of this was noted by one wife who 
said that in her community there was a subtle expression 
of approval when she did not take a cocktail at a party, 
even though it was approved for other wives. Still, she 
thought that they did not want her to condemn them for 
taking a drink. 

Do the expectations of the church and community pre- 
vent the minister's wife from expressing her own selfhood? 
Most wives seem to feel that the nature of the relationship 
between them and the church and community is such that 
they are free to pursue their own interests and develop 
their own potentialities. There are, certainly, limits within 
which the minister's wife is free to express herself. There 
would likely be no opposing voices to her singing with the 
local opera company, but to sing in a night club would in- 
vite disaster! Only three of the thirty wives, in my initial 


research, seemed to think that church and community ex- 
pectations handicapped their self-expression to any extent. 
This is not to say that for the other wives there were no 
solitary voices or small cliques opposing a demonstration 
of independent thought or action. It is to say that on the 
part of the church they felt no< strong, unified expectations 
dictating their lives. They did not feel seriously impeded 
in being themselves. As one wife said, ** There are always 
some who complain, but you can't be too sensitive about 


There are certain role expectations that the wives per- 
ceive the church to have of them. Then too, there are re- 
ciprocal expectations that they have of the church. These 
aspects of their life in the church and community will be 
considered in this section, 

Compensations of the Role 

Compensations of a role are monetary and/or psychic. 
Psychic compensation refers to intangible satisfactions of 
a role or task, such as appreciation and success. Discus- 
sions and interviews with ministers* wives reveal that they 
are aware of both their monetary and psychic satisfactions. 
The first of these compensations mentioned by about half 
the wives is the opportunity for rather close, intimate con- 
tact with their husbands' work. This is an aspect of the 
role of the minister's wife that can afford her some of the 
deepest satisfactions. She has an opportunity for working 
with him and knowing what is going on as few other mod- 
ern wives do. This was rather succinctly stated by one 


I Ike the sense of unity with my husband. If lie worked in 
town, like most men, I'd never know what he was doing or 

be able to work with Mm. Then too, I know all the people here 
and if Frank mentions Mrs. Smith, I know whom he is talking 

"Mrs. Smith" to the wife of another professional man 
would simply be the name of a lady who works in the 
office. The wife may or may not have known Mrs. Smith 
as the pastor's wife would know her. 

A second compensation is the sense of recognition from 
the church of a job well done. Whether verbalized or not, 
this is probably one thing most wives expect. This recog- 
nition may come in the form of an expression of apprecia- 
tion, a gift, the seat at the head of a table, or other less 
tangible items. These all contribute to the satisfactions of 
the role. It is not always easy to admit the expectation or 
need for such recognition. But, as one wife frankly put it, 
* I have to be honest and say that it does my sagging ego 
inestimable good for people to say they appreciate some- 
thing I have put effort into." There are those in every 
church who take for granted the work of the pastor and 
his wife. .** They're paid to do it" But most wives seem to 
feel that their church adequately expresses its apprecia- 
tion and approval for what they do. 

A third compensation has to do with the pastor's home. 
In fact, the most frequent response to a question about 
what the wives expected of their churches had to do with 
the parsonage. Most parsonages are provided by the 
church. (A few churches now give the pastor a parsonage 
allowance and let him rent or buy wherever he pleases.) 
Therefore, most wives take for granted that the home will 
be provided by the church. But the type of home, its size 
and upkeep, are of vital concern to them. This concern is 


even more acute where the parsonage is furnished or 
partly furnished by the church, as with some Methodist 
churches. The stories of castoff furniture gravitating to- 
ward the parsonage are not entirely without foundation, 
though the M ethodist wives with whom I have talked say 
that the practice has about ceased. 

When asked what type of home they feel should be pro- 
vided, the wives usually respond that it should be about 
equal to the average nice home in the community. Few 
seem to think it should be better than the average home. 
In most parishes there is the practice of redecorating the 
parsonage when a new pastor's family moves in. The 
pastor's wife usually has her choice of color. In smaller and 
less prosperous churches the practice of redecorating may 
be bypassed. A few wives say that they have difficulty get- 
ting needed repairs done. The problem here may Me in an 
irresponsible parsonage committee; but in other instances 
the problem may lie in the approach of the pastor and his 
wife. Wives who express difficulty in getting repairs may 
be less aggressive than those who do not have this trouble. 
There seems to be a tendency on the part of some churches 
to depend upon the ministers wife for suggesting repairs. 
If these suggestions are not forthcoming, or if some less ag- 
gressive wife fails to press her case, the repairs are likely 
to go wanting. Numerous wives think that it is the respon- 
sibility of the pastor's wife to ask for and expect the kind 
of parsonage upkeep of which both pastor and church can 
be justly proud. 

A f ourth compensation expected by the wives of their 
churches has to do with salary. This was mentioned by 
nearly two thirds of the wives in my initial research. Salary 
is one of the most common complaints in any field of work. 
Interestingly, only three of the thirty wives in the above 


research expressed strong feelings that the salary was in- 
adequate. This may be partly because this particular sam- 
ple was drawn from a geographical area that is reasonably 
stable and prosperous. Several of the remaining twenty- 
seven said it would be nice to have more money. If more 
of these wives thought that the salary was inadequate, their 
failure to mention it could be due in part to some ministers' 
attitude that to mention salary is hardly ethical lest some- 
one think he is " preaching for money.** Nearly one third 
of the wives in the research expressed the feeling that the 
salary was adequate but that it had not always been so. 
This was particularly true in the years before they had 
moved into larger parishes that could afford to pay more. 
How do ministers 7 wives feel about discounts? In some 
areas it is common for ministers to get a 10 per cent dis- 
count, free tickets, or items at wholesale prices. It is note- 
worthy that even among the wives who accept such spe- 
cial considerations there is an almost universal distaste for 
them. " Let them pay a decent salary/ 7 said an indignant 
wife, " and I'll pay my own way." One perceptive wife ex- 
pressed the opinion that there is a subtle danger in dis- 
counts, for they impair one's self-concept: 

There is quite a problem in this country [she had been reared 
in Australia] in that the people here defer to the minister too 
much. They give him free tickets, discounts, and the like. I 
feel quite uncomfortable at dinners in the church when every- 
body else is waiting to pay, and we have a free ticket and walk 
in. ... It belittles you. You catch yourself expecting it, and I 
think it is dangerous then. 

One wife in a small village reported that she did not 
know about discounts when she and her husband moved 
there in their first pastorate. At first they tried to refuse 
the offers. However, business establishments were so per- 


sistent that they finally decided there was a lesser problem 
in accepting than in refusing the offers. To refuse appeared 
to some proprietors to be almost tantamount to personal 
rejection. Maybe some people need to give pastors special 

An interesting insight into community attitudes on dis- 
counts was provided by two incidents related by the above 
wife. In the first one, a clerk inadvertently failed to deduct 
the regular 10 per cent from a bill. Later she apologized 
and asked the pastor's wife why she had not reminded her 
of the mistake. The clerk went on to say that it was re- 
freshing to have a minister or his wife who did not ask for 
the discount. ** Some come in here and really put up a fuss 
about asking for it," she said. This suggests the possibility 
of a degree of hostility inherent in the practice of dis- 
counts. At least hostility is aroused when the ministers 
family makes an issue over requesting a discount. It is a 
courtesy on the part of the establishment. 

In the second incident, this pastor's wife said that when 
her husband was ill in the hospital she stopped at a local 
service station for gasoline. When the subject of the hus- 
band's illness was mentioned the attendant remarked, 
" Well, at least you don't have a big bill like the rest of us 
poor folk." When she informed him that they had to pay 
the same price as other patients, he could hardly believe 
it. She interpreted this to mean that some community 
members think that ministers get too many special con- 

Whatever the attitudes of the community toward dis- 
counts or other gratuities, ministers' wives for the most 
part are solidly in favor of adequate salaries so that min- 
isters may pay their own way. To accept such special at- 
tention may undercut the self-concept of the minister and 


Ms family. ** We would rather stand in the eyes of the com- 
munity not as objects of charity," to quote one wife, " but 
as competent and adequate persons in all areas., including 
the financial one," 

Work in the Community 

As the wife of a public figure, the influence of the min- 
ister's wife extends beyond the bounds of the church into 
the larger community. She is sometimes expected to lend 
her name and support to various community organizations, 
particularly if her predecessor belonged to the same group. 
However, the ministers 7 wives with whom I have worked 
seem to be relatively uninvolved in community groups. 
Hie most frequent answer as to why they aren't more ac- 
tive is that they think that the home and church have prior 
claim on their time. A typical response is that of the wife 
who said: " Frankly, I have little time for anything else. 
By the time I take care of my duties here at home and in 
the church, I don't have time or energy for anything 
else! ** Still, there are those wives who say that the min- 
ister's wife should make time for some community work. 
The P.T.A. seems to be the organization that wives with 
school-age children are most likely to join. One might 
argue persuasively that there is a therapeutic value to 
joining one of these groups. Some wives say they feel 
good sitting with a group of P.T.A. women and simply be- 
ing another mother in the community. It is relaxing. Yet it 
is difficult for them to get far from their roles as ministers* 
wives. But it is a change of pace. 

Somewhat related to work in community organizations 
are those wives who work outside the home for remunera- 
tion. However, the fact that they are paid for their services 


makes this type o work quite distinct from voluntary serv- 
ices and can be a source of criticism. The authors of Crest- 
wood Heights noted that in their city, a woman's extra- 
familial activities were expected to be socially useful but 
unpaid. They attributed the large amount of participation 
in philanthropic and school organizations to this commun- 
ity expectation. 4 

The -ministers' wives who work outside the home con- 
front their own, peculiar problems. Some types of work 
are more permissible than others. Then too, their own per- 
sonalities and skills also enter into whether or not they 
work A brief look at three wives is illustrative of those 
who chose to work* Two of the three had worked prior to 
their marriage. The first wife teaches school and remarked 
that she took the position because certain types o trivia 
bother her. The ringing parsonage telephone is her chief 
source of irritation. " I took the job," she said, ** largely to 
get away from such things/* She also expressed dissatisfac- 
tion at working with " nonprof essionals ** in the church 
educational program. Her contact with church work was 
minimal, since teaching limited her available time. She at- 
tended the women's group out of some sense of responsi- 
bility, and sang in the church choir because, as a person 
with a trained voice, she thought that this provided an op- 
portunity for self-expression. The total picture suggests 
a person who has need to avoid too close contact with 
church activities. 

The second wife worked part time at the private school 
which her children attended. Her work there involved so 
few hours that it did not make any difference to the church. 
She was still able to attend tibe church functions that she 
would ordinarily have attended. The fact that she had not 
had to curtail her church activities undoubtedly con- 


tributed to the permissive attitude on the part of the 
church toward her work. 

A third wife worked part time as a student counselor in 
a nearby college. When asked how the church felt about 
her working, she replied, ** Oh, they think it's terrible! " 
She clarified this by saying that the church thought that 
she already had enough to do. It had been made clear to 
the church, she said, that she was not working for financial 
reasons but because an emergency existed in the college 
for a person with her training. It is interesting to note that 
she felt a need to indicate to the church that financial mo- 
tivations did not underly her reason for working. She was 
responding to an emergency. Though she was being paid 
for her work, she was depreciating the profit motive. Pos- 
sibly this made her employment more palatable to the 
church and/or herself. 

There is apparently a tacit understanding that certain 
types of work are more permissible than others for the 
minister's wife. Having music students and teaching school 
are among the more acceptable types of work. But work 
as a salesclerk seems to be rather unacceptable in practi- 
cally all communities. " It is undignified/* was the evalua- 
tion of one lay person. Employment in the professional or 
semiprofessional fields is most likely to be acceptable by 
the church and community as suitable for the pastor's 
wife. These fields possess a certain dignity and prestige. 
Even so, there appears to be in the larger and more so- 
cially conscious churches and communities less acceptance 
of the minister's wife working. 

Matters of Social Class 

Warner, Havighurst, and Loeb, authors of Who Shall 
Be Educated?, note that education is one of the most fre- 


quent means by which a person moves up the social lad- 
der. 5 Since the minister is usually one of the better edu- 
cated persons in the community, it is not uncommon to 
find that lie has moved into a Mgher social class than that 
of Ms parents. Furthermore, the nature of Ms role is such 
that homes of persons in Mgher socioeconomic echelons 
are opened to Mm which otherwise might never be opened. 
Conversely, as pastor of the whole congregation lie is 
thrown into contact with those in the lower socio- 
economic levels. In either case, the pastor's own back- 
ground may have ill prepared Mm to operate comfortably 
with those in a class different from Ms own. 

Like her husband, the minister's wife has to relate to per- 
sons whose social class is either above or below her own. 
There are times when adjusting to these social-class differ- 
ences is a problem to the minister's wife. For example, one 
wife whose father had been an uneducated rural pastor 
spoke of her own insecurities in the presence of the women 
in their elite suburban church. " Everyone here dresses so 
nicely," she said. ** Some of the women have very expen- 
sive dinner dresses. I finally gave up. I have one dress I 
wear to every event. I really feel quite inadequate so- 
cially r Life in the community of this wife's childhood was 
quite remote from tibat of the parish in wMch she now 
found herself. Fortunately, she felt secure in her ability to 
relate on a friendly basis to the women. She considered 
that this compensated for other inadequacies. 

Another wife had been reared in a small Midwest vil- 
lage where her father was the local miller. After marriage 
to a promising young pastor, they moved to a New Eng- 
land city, where he became pastor of a church in a socially 
prominent community. The community was described as 
hardly having a middle class. Most people were members 


of the old, established upper-class families or of the lower- 
class. New members moving into the community spent 
considerable time and energy trying to " crash the social 
barrier " into upper-class circles. However, she said that 
her husband's role as a minister gave them immediate ac- 
cess to this group, a fact that sometimes engendered hos- 
tility on the part of the less successful ones. At the same 
time this created anxieties within her, since she knew 
nothing of this type of life. She said: 

I came here from a background where I had few opportuni- 
ties to learn social graces. I was plunged into it all at once 

here at A , and I must admit I was scared to death before 

the first time I entertained. I didn't even know how to set a 
proper table. 

Less frequently the minister's wife faces the problems 
involved in moving down the social ladder. That is, mem- 
bers of the congregation are largely of a social class below 
that in which she was reared. An example of this type of 
wife is one whose father had been the owner of one of the 
best-known businesses in San Francisco. She now found 
herself a pastor's wife in a small New Jersey village with a 
class of people quite foreign to that in which she had been 
reared. The society in which she grew up dictated that the 
well-dressed woman wear gloves when leaving the home 
to shop or attend a meeting. This was not so in her village. 
More criticism was leveled at her, she said, by the women 
of the church for what they considered overdressing than 
any other thing. The gloves were particularly obnoxious 
to them. 

The problem of these wives and others like them is that 
they do not possess the role expectations of the social class 
in which they find themselves. To the degree that they lack 
these, they lack the social poise needed to move comfort- 


ably in that particular class. Hie background of the wife 
who moved to New England had equipped her with role 
expectations of the middle class; she knew little of upper- 
class life and was having difficulty in fully integrating its 
expectations, thus permitting her to operate comfortably 
in the new class. The lack of proper expectations was true 
of the other wives as well. The wife who persisted in wear- 
ing gloves kcked some of the expectations of the middle- 
class society of her church, so that a certain gap was cre- 
ated between herself and the women of the congregation. 
An integral part of social class is the matter of grooming. 
Problems relating to proper dress are among the common 
ones when a pastor's wife moves into or associates with 
persons from a class different from her own. Churches cer- 
tainly have expectations of their pastors* wives so far as 
dress is concerned. The wives are aware of this. There is a 
rather clear-cut unanimity that the churches expect them 
to dress attractively but conservatively. Little conflict is 
created at this point, since the wives too expect this type 
of grooming of themselves. Books written for ministers' 
wives almost always devote attention to grooming and 
counsel them with the same advice concerning conserva- 
tive dress. In some instances the wives express the opinion 
that they should be inconspicuously dressed. That is, their 
manner of dress should not attract attention to itself. Pro- 
priety would, therefore, dictate that dress vary from 
church to church and occasion to occasion. The wives* 
attitudes about dress are also shared by their husbands. 
But the expression of attitudes about conservative dress 
does not mean that black is the standard of excellence. As 
the husband of one wife said, ** I have no desire to have 
one of those dowdy, dried-up Protestant wives who wear 
black, use no lipstick, and keep their hair done up in a ball 


on the back of their heads like some grandma! " 

The matter of grooming is looked upon much like good 
public relations by some wives. Their dress, they think, 
may not have a thing to do with the caliber of their hus- 
bands' religion or preaching, but it does influence the way 
it is heard. One wife phrased it this way: " I've never been 
one to think that some of these blank-looking ministers' 
wives ever did much to make people think anything of 
their religion." Another who felt rather strongly on this 
point said, " I think that a minister's wife who runs around 
in slacks and curlers can do more to undo the work of her 
husband in the church than if she did not participate at 
all in the church workl " 

What comprises "attractive conservatism" is flexible, 
depending upon the social class of the church and com- 
munity. When asked whether or not they would alter their 
style of dress were they to move into a community with 
different standards of conservatism, nine out of ten wives 
in my initial research responded in the affirmative. Some 
found it difficult to imagine moving into a community 
whose customs in dress were so different from their own. 
Not that these communities do not exist, but that they sim- 
ply would not be likely to move into them. This is prob- 
ably a reflection of the fact that people tend to move in 
circles closely related to their own social class. 

Another factor related to social class is the educational 
background of the minister's wife. When asked about the 
advice that they would give to a girl engaged to a minister, 
nearly a third of the wives in the initial research men- 
tioned the need for a college education. While it is not 
possible to predict the educational achievements of min- 
isters' wives on a national basis, it may be of interest to 
note that of the thirty wives in the above sample, seven- 


teen had a B.A. or its equivalent, and five of these also had 
a master's degree. The lack of a college education 
prompted some expression of insecurity in eight of the 
thirteen wives who lacked it. Some wives who have only 
a high school education express difficulty in relating to 
women with college degrees. Others openly voice a desire 
for the confidence that a degree would give. However, 
there appeared to be no essential difference in the re- 
sponses of the college and noncollege wives in the above 
sample, other things being equal. One of the chief values 
of a college education is that it imparts to the minister's 
wife a certain confidence that she might otherwise lack. 
Can the minister's wife be overeducated? Possibly in 
some respects. In the first place, her education can be a 
threat to some members of the congregation. A few wives 
express this opinion, and think that they have to be cau- 
tious about giving evidence of knowing too much. Of 
course, the problem here may lie more in the know-it-all 
intellectual pretensions of the minister's wife than in the 
fact that she is more highly educated than some of the 
parishioners. Still, those who say that they do have to 
** hold back " express feelings of being frustrated by it. A 
second problem that may arise out of her education is a 
divergence between her interests, attitudes, and aspira- 
tions, and those of the congregation. This is related to a 
problem of which denominational leaders have been cogni- 
zant for some time: the more education a minister has, 
the more likely he is to be discontented with being pastor 
of the Third Church. He wants to be at the First Church. 
This is partly a matter of the prestige of the First Church, 
but it is also a matter of social class. There are likely to be 
more educated people at the First Church with interests, 
attitudes, and tastes similar to his own. The pastors wife 


faces the same problems. One of the areas in which this 
problem is noted in churches is in the music program. The 
congregation may find the syncopated rhythms of some 
gospel hymns thoroughly uplifting. On the other hand, the 
educated tastes of the pastor and his wife for Handel, 
Bach, and the more dignified hymns (by their standards) 
leave the congregation unmoved. This is a calculated risk 
in education. Still, there are those pastors who consider 
that part of their responsibility to the congregation is not 
only to lift its spiritual horizons, but also to elevate its 
tastes in expressions of worship in music. If the pastor's 
education does not help him do this, it has significantly 

A final aspect of social class to be considered here is that 
the minister may be spared some of the struggle involved 
in upward mobility. For instance, he does not have to try 
to outdo a neighbor in lavish entertainment. In fact, it 
may be that the minister is not expected to return dinner 
invitations. " It's a good thing/' said one wife expressing 
this attitude, "because our budget would really take a 
beating! " The practice of entertaining individual mem- 
bers of the congregation seems to be relatively infrequent 
because of the jealousies that this would engender. How- 
ever, church groups, such as the board of trustees, may be 
entertained in the pastor's home. 

There are other ways in which the minister avoids some 
of the struggle of upward mobility. His role as the pastor 
means that he and his family do not have to inveigle their 
way into the elite set in the church, since his role usually 
opens these doors. Ministers are furthermore not con- 
fronted with the problem of where to live, as is the enter- 
prising young executive, since the church usually provides 
the parsonage. He does have to decide what type of car 


he shall drive, and lie usually chooses one of die C low- 
priced three," according to one study. 6 All of this is not to 

be interpreted as meaning that the pastor lacks the drive of 
upward mobility characteristic of some circles in our so- 
ciety; in fact many do work feverishly toward larger and 
more influential churches. It is to say that he and Ms family 
are spared some aspects of the struggle involved in moving 
up the social ladder. 

The Personal Equation 

Throughout this book the importance of the personality 
make-up of the individual -minister's wife has been empha- 
sized. While the demands and pressures brought to bear 
upon her depend in part upon the nature of die church, 
community, and even her predecessors, the characteristics 
of her own personality will determine how she perceives 
these pressures and the manner in which she responds to 
them. One suspects that some wives experience pressure 
from the church for certain types of role activity where 
others would sense none at alL Possibly one is callous and 
therefore insensitive to some expectations; another may be 
hypersensitive and so interpret an expectation of one per- 
son as that of the whole church. Interviews and counseling 
sessions with ministers* wives indicate that pressures ex- 
perienced by some of them are simply the projections onto 
the church of their own internal idealizations, discontents, 
and conflicts. The minister's wife mentioned earlier who 
thought that members of the congregation were saying, 
* She's just showing off/' while she played the organ is a 
case in point. In all probability these voices emanated 
within herself. In reality she enjoyed " showing off," but 
being unable to accept the fact that there is a sense in 
which it is legitimate to enjoy demonstrating one's talents, 


she projected the accusing voices onto the congregation. 
The personal equation is also important in matters of 
privacy in the parsonage. While the pastor's wife cannot 
draw the curtains of privacy completely in her " glass 
house/* she can, if she will, exclude some of the light shin- 
ing in from the outside world. As one wife said, " It's up 
to the wife to decide when they are intruding too much, 
and where to draw the line." But, as noted earlier in the 
discussion on privacy, some wives create part of their own 
problems because they have not yet learned how to dis- 
courage unnecessary intrusions in the home. One of the 
indispensable skills in life is knowing when and how to 
say ** no " tactfully. This is especially true for the minister's 
wife and family. 


This chapter has attempted to explore some role atti- 
tudes of ministers' wives toward the church and commun- 
ity. One aspect of these attitudes has been the expecta- 
tions that the wives perceive the church as having of them 
and the expectations that they in turn have of the church. 
One over-all observation pertinent to the expectations of 
the church is that the minister's wife must avoid extremes. 
She is neither to dress too well nor to underdress; she is 
to be conservative, though what comprises conservatism 
depends upon the particular community. She is to be nei- 
ther too intellectual nor too shallow. One wife noted that 
she is expected to be religious, but not too religious nor 
yet too worldly. In short, she is to be conservative in all 
the various facets of life. 

The strongest expectations expressed by the wives on 
the part of the church had to do with what might be called 
compensations of the role. The type of parsonage provided 


and Its upkeep, the salary, and expressions of respect and 
appreciation are part of this compensation. While the 
minister's salary may be generally less than salaries of men 
with comparable education and position, the "psychic 
pay" associated with, the role is high. One wife quoted 
the psychiatric consultant of one of the best-known 
churches in this country as saying in a lecture that when 
the monetary pay of a position decreases, the psychic pay 
associated with it must increase if the person is to con- 
tinue operating effectively. Herein may Me part of the se- 
cret of those who are able to continue fulfilling their roles 
effectively, but who are in one of the professions with long 
histories of poor salaries, such as teaching and the ministry. 
That is, the psychic pay of being a minister compensates, 
to a degree, for what it lacks in monetary remuneration. 
Other things being equal, the personal satisfactions (psy- 
chic pay) of her role are probably of greater significance 
to the minister's wife in achieving a sense of self -fulfillment 
than monetary reimbursements. 

It was noted that the nature of the role of minister's 
wife makes it necessary for her to relate to persons who are 
both above and below her own social class. Lacking the 
role expectations of these other groups, she may be unable 
to operate comfortably in them. However, through experi- 
ence with these groups the socially adaptable wife can 
learn the role expectations of the class of person to whom 
she is relating. That is, she is able to build up a reservoir 
of roles from which to draw to meet the occasion. Theo- 
dore Sarbin notes that the more roles a person has in his 
behavioral repertory, the better his social adjustments, 
other things being equal 7 

Both the wives and churches agree that the responsibili- 
ties of the home and church have prior claim on their time 


and energies. Community activities ky claim to whatever 
time remains, which seems to be little. However, one value 
of community contacts is that it provides a change of pace 
for the minister's wife and helps her to maintain her per- 
spective on life. Wives working in the community for re- 
muneration present another situation. There appears to be 
tacit disapproval of this type of work on the part of most 
churches. Her employment is made more palatable if she 
works part time. Also, certain types of work have greater 
acceptability in the eyes of the church and community. 
Teaching is one of these. It possesses both a dignity and 
prestige similar to that of the minister's wife. 

Here and there one encounters a wife who seems to be 
facing the problem of deciding whether she derives more 
meaning from her work outside the home or her work as a 
minister's wife. This is the dilemma of choosing between 
two roles. Most wives seem to solve the problem by at- 
tempting the fulfillment of parts of each role. Probably an 
observation by a role theorist is pertinent here. Ralph Lin- 
ton notes that little sympathy is evoked by the person en- 
deavoring to escape the performance of certain aspects of 
his roles. Yet, he says, it is easier to find sympathy for a 
person confronted with the dilemma of choosing between 
two roles of equal validity. 8 A woman torn between her 
responsibilities to her child as a mother, and her loyalties 
to her husband as a wife is an example of a conflict be- 
tween two roles of equal validity. One reason why 
churches may be tolerant of ministers* wives' working out- 
side the home in certain types of employment is that the 
wives are actually making a decision between two roles 
of equal validity. The rejection by churches of wives who 
attempt the avoidance of fulfilling their role as ministers' 
wives without assuming another role of somewhat equal 


prestige can be unbelievably thoroughgoing. 

It was also noted that the individual wife herself is one 
of the most significant factors relevant to the role expecta- 
tions by the church of her. If she is hypersensitive to every 
expectation., however slight, she will find her life encircled 
with chafing demands that are not in keeping with those 
which she has of herself. On the other hand, most wives 
find that they are able to maintain their own individuality, 
and at the same time fulfill the essential aspects of their 
role expectations. However, this decision must be made by 
the individual woman; she must decide where to draw 
the line, 

Chapter VI 


for Further Thought 

ONE of the more important contributions that explora- 
tory writings can make in a little-known field is to 
suggest certain significant questions for subsequent con- 
sideration. The body of knowledge concerning ministers' 
wives qualifies as such a field. The first section of this 
chapter sets forth several ideas that seem to have evolved 
from my own research and other contacts with wives of 
ministers. In order to present these ideas as clearly and 
systematically as possible, they are offered as a series of 
propositions with brief accompanying explanations. The 
second section of the chapter sets f orth certain categories 
into which ministers' wives seem to be divided. 


Some of the following propositions may be considered 
axiomatic or self-evident. The purpose in these cases is to 
emphasize their relevancy for wives of ministers. In other 
instances the propositions draw upon previous formula- 
tions, and the purpose here is to interpret them in terms 
of ministers* wives. Some propositions are suggested by my 
studies alone and are applicable only to these wives. Taken 
as a whole, the propositions comprise some of the more 



important implications of the ideas set forth in this book. 
The reader may agree or disagree with them. At least it is 
hoped they will stimulate thought. 

Proposition I. Ministers' wives who express a sense of spe- 
cial f< call " tend to be more directly active in church ac- 
tivities than those who do not express a call. 

Wives of ministers who express a special sense of divine 
call to do either " full-time Christian work " or to be a 
minister's wife usually tend to be more directly active in 
church activities than those wives who experience no such 
call. The " called " wives view their work as one method 
of fulfilling that call. Other wives may express a sense of 
call, but not a special call. In this case their call is the 
more general one that comes to all devout Christians. This 
latter group does not appear to be any more involved in 
church activities than other active laywomen in the church. 

Proposition II. Ministers' wives without children tend to 
be more directly active in church activities than those with 

The reasons underlying this proposition are apparent. 
Wives without children usually agree that they would not 
be as active in the church if they had children. Some wives 
note that they were more active prior to the children^ ar- 
rival. Furthermore, churches appear to expect wives with- 
out children to participate more actively. Fortunately this 
expectation seems to change upon the arrival of the first 
baby. One can imagine the hardship and conflicts that 
would ensue were the churches, husbands, or wives them- 
selves to continue to expect as much participation as pre- 


Proposition III. Ministers' wives whose perception of theif 
role is rather clear-cut, rigid, and regularizing tend to 
demonstrate less individuality than those with more flex- 
ible role perceptions. 

Probably this proposition is axiomatic. The problem here 
seems to lie not so much in the fact that their role is clear- 
cut, but rather that this concept is also rigid, regularizing, 
and conforming. To these wives, their role tends to become 
a mold into which they must adjust and adapt until it fits 
at all points. The danger lies in the fact that their own 
uniqueness, their own individuality, is sacrificed to the de- 
gree to which they think their role demands such con- 

Proposition IV. The source of strong pressures on some 
ministers' wives originates in idealized self-concepts rather 
than from the church and community. 

As noted in earlier chapters, the frustration experienced 
by some pastors' wives appears to have its roots in rather 
exalted and idealized concepts of themselves rather than 
in exalted concepts by the church and community. These 
wives are harassed by unrealized ideals that are projected 
onto the community and read back as community pres- 

Proposition V. In newly established congregations, the 
ministers wife tends to be more active in church activities 
than in older, well-established congregations. 

Wives who are located in young churches appear to be 
more directly active in the church program than those ia 


well-established churches. The exigencies of the situation 
demand more than the husband alone can do, and these 
wives have risen to the occasion. These young churches 
have not had time to develop their own leaders. Many 
times they are ministering to people who have little or no 
background in church work. One of the foremost problems 
of these churches is the development and training of its 
leadership. Meanwhile, the pasto/s wife fills the gaps. 
These wives also note that as the congregation becomes 
more firmly established and the patterns of procedure set, 
they gradually become less involved. In some new con- 
gregations all the church activities are carried on in the 
pastor's home until the church is constructed. The growth 
of a congregation, indicated by having its own building, 
also disinvolves the pastor's wife at one vital point she 
has her home to herself once again. 

Proposition VI. Learning to accept the inevitables of Tier 
role is an important aspect of adjustment for the ministers 

The ability to accept those aspects of her role which 
cannot reasonably be changed is an important factor in her 
role adjustments. This axiomatic statement is related to the 
oft-quoted prayer that asks for the ability to accept those 
things which cannot be changed, to change those which 
can be, and the wisdom to distinguish between the two. 
A realistic view of life brings one to an awareness that 
there are some things about our lives that cannot and/or 
should not be changed. Maturity demands the acceptance 
of the inevitables. Some wives of ministers state the need 
for this acceptance. Certain aspects of their roles cannot 
be evaded or eliminated without serious damage being 


done. For instance, a certain amount of living in 'the pub- 
ic eye accompanies the role. To insist upon as much 
privacy as some individuals have is unrealistic and could 
cause serious disruptions both within herself and the 
church. This is not to say that she is to conform to every 
expectation, for the advice to " be yourself " is a common 
one mentioned by the wives. The wife herself must deter- 
mine what is central and essential, and what is peripheral 
and optional. 

Proposition VII. The denomination of the minister's wife 
is not a significant factor in her attitudes about her role, 
other things being equal. 

So far as can be determined from my own study, there 
are no significant denominational differences in the role 
attitudes of ministers* wives. In many instances there is 
more similarity between, say, a Presbyterian and Lutheran 
than between a Lutheran and another Lutheran. It would 
be most difficult, if not impossible, to predict with any ac- 
curacy the denominational affiliations of a wife solely on 
the basis of her attitudes. However, other factors can and 
do enter into the responses. For instance, denomination 
may be some index to social class. Social class does influ- 
ence one's attitudes. This is partly what is meant by 
"other things being equal," noted above. Thus Episco- 
palians generally reach those in the upper socioeconomic 
levels, while Baptists have traditionally reached those in 
the lower socioeconomic groups, though there are many 
individual variations. 

Another variable in this proposition may be the quality 
of the wives' religion, though it is difficult to assess this 
particular item. It does appear that wives who describe 


themselves as theologically conservative tend to use a 
more religious vocabulary than other wives. (There has 
been some speculation that the wife of an Episcopal pastor 
may express a different attitude about her husband, be- 
cause technically he is her priest as well as her pastor. 
Other research is needed to determine whether this is so.) 

Proposition VIII. Ministers* wives who have worked to 
support themselves tend to maintain and express more in- 
dividuality than those who have not. 

There appears to be some indication that wives who 
have worked prior to marriage tend to express more indi- 
viduality of thought and action than those who married 
without having worked. If this is so, it might be attrib- 
utable to the necessity to make their own decisions, and 
to rely upon personal initiative and resources when sup- 
porting one's self. There may be the possibility that work- 
ing for a long period handicaps their ability to adjust 
readily to the role of a minister's wife. This is particularly 
true when the work has been of a professional nature, such 
as church work or social work. 

Proposition IX. The minister's wife is leading a life more 
nearly like that of other community members than stereo- 
types of her depict. 

One of the stereotypes depicts her as a " Bible-toting 
prayer-uttering person whose life is absorbed in church 
meetings and study groups. She dresses in somber colors, 
avoids modern hairdos, and is otherwise a colorless char- 
acter. This study suggests that, as a whole, wives of min- 
isters are becoming less directly involved in church ac- 


tivities, and are leading lives more nearly like those of 
their neighbors than the usual stereotypes indicate. While 
their lives are by no means as " normal " as their neigh- 
bors*, ministers' wives cannot be as easily identified by a 
specific mode of life and activity as one would assume. 

Proposition X. The way a minister's wife experiences and 
responds to the expectations of her church is a function of 
her own personality make-up. 

One suspects that two wives in the same church at the 
same time could respond quite differently to the same in- 
cident. One might interpret an invitation from a parish- 
ioner to attend a Sunday school party as great pressure 
from the whole church to attend all social functions. The 
other wife might accept it casually as a friendly gesture on 
the part of one person and dismiss it with an expression of 
appreciation for her thoughtf ulness. The difference in their 
perception and response can be attributed to the difference 
in their personality make-up. The various traits that com- 
bine in a thousand ways to make us who we are condition 
the ways in which we respond to stimuli. These traits in- 
clude security and insecurity; suspicion and trustfulness; 
aggression and passivity; extroversion and introversion; 
love and hate; happiness and unhappiness; dependence 
and independence; faith and doubt; and many others. For 
these reasons the Socratic injunction to "know thyself " 
takes on renewed meaning. Our problem in relating to 
other people may very well lie in the blind spots of our 
own personality, in our own fears and anxieties, rather 
than in the other person's. 

Proposition XI. The parsonage has been able to retain more 
of its traditional functions than many other homes in our 


society., thus contributing to the ministers wife's sense of 
worth and value and averting a sense of uselessness char- 
acteristic of some housewives in our industrial society. 

Some social psychologists attribute the discontent of the 
wife in an industrial society to the fact that certain pri- 
mary functions of the home have been transferred to oilier 
agencies and institutions. Nothing has replaced the void, 
and the wife is left with a sense of uselessness. While many 
productive functions have been transferred from the par- 
sonage (the can opener is an indispensible tool in the par- 
sonage too ) , it has retained some functions not possessed 
by other homes, thus imparting to the minister's wife a 
sense of worth, of being needed. This writing has pointed 
out that the minister's wife seems to view her home as a 
type of refuge to which the pastor can retreat. She is the 
keeper of this important refuge. In most instances his 
study is located in the parsonage and he does much of his 
study there. She cares for many of the incoming and out- 
going telephone calls. She provides the type of atmosphere 
in which he can relax and where he can unburden to her 
listening ear. It is here that callers come throughout the 
day, and here she occasionally entertains church groups 
and official guests. In short, the pastor must have her to 
perform certain functions, and all this imparts a sense of 
meaning to her life. 

Proposition XII. The professional church worker who mar- 
ries a minister may have some difficulty adjusting her for- 
merly ascribed role as a church leader to her newly 
ascribed role as a minister's wife. 

The professional church worker is accustomed to per- 
forming some of the same or similar functions as the pas- 


tor. Her training is somewhat similar to Ms and she is used 
to competing with men in a predominately male leader- 
ship sphere, the church. There are indications that this 
wife may have difficulty readjusting her own self -percep- 
tions to harmonize with the role ascribed her as the wife 
of a minister. Rather than complement each other, the 
similarities of their roles may clash. 

Proposition XIII. The concept of the wife's staying in the 
background is in reality a delimiting of her role from that 
of her husbands. 

The role of the minister's wife is of such a nature that 
she could become involved in activities similar to those of 
her husband if she desired. This can issue in a confusion 
of roles. The frequency with which the background con- 
cept of the role of the minister's wife is noted in the litera- 
ture and in interviews with wives may be an attempt to 
distinguish her role from her husband's. Generations of 
experience on the part of wives of ministers may have 
demonstrated that this approach engenders the fewest 
difficulties and conflicts. The field of anthropology aids in 
understanding this concept. Cultural anthropologists have 
noted that in those cultures where men and women co- 
operate together in an endeavor, the field of each is usu- 
ally clearly defined. The idea of staying in the background, 
then, would represent the wives* way of saying, " Though 
We work together in the church, my particular sphere of 
this work is to be a part of the background or backdrop 
against which you perform your functions." Of course, by 
defining her role as being in the background, role con- 
fusion is avoided not only by the pastor and his wife but 
also by the church. 


Proposition XIV. The role of the minister's wife produces 

A sense of loneliness appears to be one of the more fre- 
quent problems confronted by the minister's wife. While 
in some respects she conceives of herself as being much 
like the wife of an active layman, this concept has its limi- 
tations. In actuality she can never be simply another 
active member. Whatever she does in the church and com- 
munity, she is always the ministers wife, not another lay- 
woman. A similar situation persists in other spheres of her 
existence. The expansiveness of her role covers most areas 
of her life and most social settings. The result is that she 
feels set apart, and loneliness ensues. This loneliness is 
aggravated by her expectations and the church's that she 
will not develop close friendships within the church. Her 
loneliness is further complicated because her husband is 
absent from the home most evenings. Wives who are able 
to develop other friendships or outlets appear to be less 

Proposition XV. Role expectations of ministers 9 wives in 
smaller communities are more clear-cut and insistent than 
in larger communities. 

Wives who have had experience in smaller communities 
usually note that there were more expectations of them 
there than in their present larger one. Not only are there 
more expectations, these wives say, but there is greater 
pressure that they be fulfilled. In rural areas the number 
of expectations and the insistence upon their fulfillment 
reaches its apex. On the other hand, such expectations are 
at a minimum in large metropolitan areas. The most signif- 


leant reason for difference is related to the greater ano- 
nymity of the cities and the corresponding significance of 
the individual in small communities. 

Proposition XVL Role conflicts of the young minister's 
wife are frequently attributable to the lack of experience 
necessary for acquiring and internalizing expectations of 
the role. 

A person cannot enact a role for which the necessary 
role expectations are lacking. Theodore Sarbin says these 
expectations are acquired through experience. 1 This sug- 
gests that certain frustrations experienced by the young 
pastor's wife in her new role may be due to the fact that 
she lacks the experience necessary for the acquisition and 
internalizing (making them her own) of the role's expecta- 
tions. This seems to be confirmed by those wives who note 
that certain things frustrated them when they were first 
married, but that these had since ceased to be problems. 
While this could indicate a submission to the sources of 
frustration, it more likely means that they readjusted their 
role expectations as they acquired more experience. 

Proposition XVII. The literature written specifically for 
the minister's wife is largely a codification of her role. 

This proposition refers particularly to those books which 
carefully instruct the minister's wife in the performance of 
her role, the self-help literature. It is especially preoccu- 
pied with the responsibilities of her role. They are in effect 
books of etiquette for the minister's wife, and have codified 
her role the way Godey's Lady's Book did for all wives of 
another generation. 


Proposition XVIII. Ministers' wives endeavoring to choose 
between two roles of relatively equal prestige experience 
less church disapproval than those wives seeking to reject 
aspects of their role without assuming another role. 

Stated in other words, this proposition means that the 
wife of a minister who fails to assume certain aspects of 
her role because she has chosen to assume parts of another 
role of somewhat equal prestige, such as teaching, experi- 
ences less disapproval from her church and community 
than the wife who rejects outright the aspects of her role, 
such as attending the women's meetings without assuming 
another. The latter wife, in a sense, has " no excuse." Still, 
there is evidence that some disapproval exists whenever 
the minister's wife works outside the home. There are cir- 
cumstances, according to this proposition, under which 
this disapproval is minimized. 

Proposition XIX. Ministers 9 wives perceive the supportive 
role as their main contribution to the husband and his 

The wives do not feel that their chief contribution to 
their husbands lies in working with the women or with 
other aspects of the church program, but rather in the en- 
couragement, understanding, help, and support that they 
are able to provide at home. Their primary realm of serv- 
ice centers in the home and the functions that it fulfills. 
In a sense, they think of themselves as being much like the 
behind-the-scenes attendants at a Broadway production 
who make it possible for the " show to go on." The assist- 
ant-pastor type of wife, whose life centers to a large degree 
outside the home, seems to be passing. 


Proposition XX. Ministers' wives frequently experience 
conflict between the satisfactions of their role and the con- 
comitant sacrifices associated with the enactment of their 

The minister's wife may derive a deep sense of satisfac- 
tion from being of help to people, but to some degree may 
dislike those factors which make such experiences pos- 
sible. Or she may enjoy some of the singular satisfactions 
associated with being the wife of a public personage, but 
may not accept the fact that she cannot have as much 
privacy as other wives. The degree to which a wife con- 
siders that the sacrifices of her role outweigh its compen- 
sations is the extent to which the role has made a negative 
impact on her mental health. Yet the over-all compensa- 
tions of the role for most wives are of such a nature as to 
make their lives rewarding. 

Proposition XXI. The role of the ministers wife differs 
from the role of the wife of another business and profes- 
sional man at the point of expectations of participation in 
the husbancTs work. 

As has been noted in Chapter II, the role of ministers' 
wives is strikingly similar to that of wives of other business 
and professional men, particularly in the upper echelons 
of the professional and business world. However, these 
roles diverge at the point of the expectations of the min- 
ister's wife to participate in her husband's work. She is ex- 
pected, by her husband, the church, and herself, to work 
with him, to a greater or lesser degree. The physician's 
wife may not know medicine, but neither is she expected 
to diagnose and treat illness. The wife of a minister, on 
the other hand, is expected to have some knowledge of re- 


ligion and is called upon to speak on religious topics. Her 
counsel is sought on religious problems. However, she is 
hardly an unwilling victim of this expectation to share in 
her husband's work. Most of the wives seem to consider 
this to be one of the deeply meaningful aspects of their 

Proposition XXII. The church and community expect the 
minister's wife to avoid extremes. 

Wives perceive that the church and community expect 
the avoidance of extremes. But since most wives seem to 
expect this of themselves, there is no conflict. These ex- 
tremes cover several areas. The wife is to be well-groomed 
but not too well-groomed, intellectual but not too intel- 
lectual, religious but not too religious. Yet there is a sense 
in which she is not expected to be strictly " middle of the 
road." For instance, while not expected to be too religious, 
she is probably expected to be more religious than the 
average community member. The disapproval of extremes, 
some wives say, stems from the discomfort that this type 
of behavior creates for community members. 

Proposition XXIII. The social adjustment of the ministers 
wife is related to the number of social roles that she is able 
to enact. 

The minister's wife who has numerous social roles in her 
repertory is equipped to move up and down the social 
ladder, and into different types of social situations, with 
poise and comfort. The nature of her role usually brings 
her into contact with persons of various backgrounds, and 
places her in social settings ranging from informal chats 
with the janitor to formal teas in an upper socioeconomic 


home. She is expected to relate to these groups, but she 
may be unable to do so without awkwardness and discom- 
fort. The socially adaptable wife is able to have in store 
different social roles that she is able to enact, thus enabling 
her to move in and out among various groups with ease. 
The comprehensive role of the minister's wife is composed 
of many subroles: wife, mother., hostess, devotional 
speaker, counselor, and others. 


Most of us resist being categorized. We like to feel that 
we are so different as to defy categorization. Of course 
there is truth in both points of view. People are both differ- 
ent and alike. Nonetheless, various theorists have estab- 
lished certain categories into which people tend to be di- 
vided, depending on the particular theorist's emphasis. 
Thus David Riesman speaks of inner-directed and other- 
directed persons 2 ; Karen Homey refers to those people 
who cope with anxiety by moving toward, away from, or 
against the anxiety stimulus 3 ; Jesus spoke of the just and 
unjust. All of this is to say that perhaps there are cate- 
gories into which wives of ministers tend to fall. My re- 
search suggests that there are. It is the purpose of this sec- 
tion to describe these categories. They are based upon the 
responses of the wives to their role as ministers' wives, par- 
ticularly as they pertain to their participation in the hus- 
bands' work. As will be seen, a constellation of experiences 
and attitudes seem to be grouped around each category. 

The three groups into which pastors' wives seem to 
be divided are being termed the (1) aloof-participant, 
(2) the supportive-participant, and (3) the incorporated- 
participant. A major role expectation of ministers' wives 


is that they participate in their husbands' work. This seems 
to be an expectation that the wives also have of them- 
selves. The degree and manner of this involvement differs. 
Consequently, their participation is the point of departure 
in establishing these categories. Doubtless there are other 
areas that could be made the point of departure. It should 
be noted that these categories are an outgrowth of inten- 
sive interviews with thirty wives. They are, therefore, pre- 
sented somewhat tentatively, with the hope that they will 
provide a start toward a further understanding of min- 
isters' wives. 

The Aloof-Participant 

As the term indicates, wives included in this category 
are characterized by an aloofness from their husbands' 
work. They share in the husbands' interests and work, but 
the difference between them and other wives is both quali- 
tative and quantitative. To date, no broad-scale studies 
have been made that might suggest how large this group 
of wives is. They are probably relatively few in number. 
Of the wives in the above-mentioned research only three 
were included in this category. Of the three, two worked 
outside the home. None expressed a sense of divine call to 
their role as ministers' wives. Each one mentioned the need 
to be one's self. One of them described herself as a non- 
conformist, and another said the pastor's wife had best try 
to please herself, since she cannot please everybody in 
the church. 

These wives were agreed that ministers' wives should 
not develop close friends within the church, but only one 
expressed a sense of loneliness. Interestingly, she was the 
only one not working outside the home, which may indi- 
cate that the outside interests of the other two wives coun- 


teracted a sense of loneliness. 

When asked about the types of church activities in 
which they participated., they mentioned an average of 
three. Though pastors* wives consider the women's work 
as one of the important areas of direct service in the 
church, all three of these wives expressed some type of 
negative attitude toward the women's work. One did not 
attend these meetings at all. A second one said she at- 
tended the meetings largely because she felt it was a busi- 
ness responsibility. The third wife expressed strongly nega- 
tivistic attitudes about the women's work, calling it petty 
and superficial. 

The over-all picture of the aloof -participant type of wife 
is that she is one who has a need for minimal contact with 
her husband's work. One of these three wives even ob- 
jected to being thought of as a minister's wife. " I am a 
woman married to a man who just happens to be a min- 
ister! " she said emphatically. 

The Supportive-Participant 

These wives appeared to be enacting their roles by per- 
ceiving their major area of participation as being that of a 
supportive or behind-the-scenes type of participation. 
Though they sometimes worked directly in the church, 
they saw their primary contribution as being within the 
home, providing the type of atmosphere that freed then- 
husbands' energies for other work. Of the twenty-three 
wives included in this category only one worked outside 
the home. They were agreed that wives of ministers 
should not develop close friendships within the church. 
Related to this was a sense of loneliness that fifteen said 
they experienced. They felt some need for ministers' wives 
to maintain their own sense of identity, and eleven men- 


tioned the idea of being one's self. 

Wives in this category mentioned being active in an 
average of six diflferent church activities compared to the 
three activities of the aloof -participant wives. Wives in the 
supportive-participant category who expressed a sense of 
divine call were active in seven activities. Those not ex- 
pressing a sense of call were active in five church activities. 

The supportive-participant wives, then, tended to view 
their role as focusing primarily in the home. They were 
more directly active in church activities than the aloof- 
participant type, but still not as active as the following 

The Incorporated-Participant 

The four wives in this category were involved in their 
husbands* work to such a degree that they might be called 
the assistant-pastor type. That is, they had been incorpo- 
rated into his work to such an extent that the main thrust 
of their activity appeared to be in the church. Two of the 
four wives said they perceived themselves primarily as 
church workers, and the third said it was a struggle for her 
to decide whether her major emphasis should be in the 
home or in the church. The fourth said she perceived her 
major role as being within the home, yet there was no 
distinguishable difference between her activities in the 
church and those of the other three wives. These wives 
mentioned being active in twelve church activities, which 
makes them twice as active as the supportive-participant 
wives, and four times as active as the aloof-participant 

Three of these four wives expressed a sense of special 
call to their work. None mentioned the concept of being 
one's self. They were agreed that they were not lonely, a 


fact that may be partly explained by the intensity of their 
involvement in church work. As one of them said, " Oh, I 
don't have time for loneliness." Their ability to participate 
at such an intense level may be due partly to the fact that 
two of them had no children, and the children of the third 
one were grown. However, the fourth wife had a small 
child, and still participated in twelve activities. Another 
factor could be the ages of three of the wives. Two were 
close to sixty; and the third, forty-five. The literature on 
ministers* wives gives the impression that wives of an 
earlier generation were more active in church activities 
than the wives in this particular sample generally seemed 
to be. Possibly these three wives were members of what 
one participant called the " old school " of ministers 7 wives, 
and thus more active. The degree of activity by the fourth 
and younger wife may be partly attributable to the fact 
that she was in a newly established church which lacked 
the trained leadership found in older churches, thus neces- 
sitating more church work on her part. 

By way of summary, it would seem that the aloof- 
participant type of wives expressed no sense of call, em- 
phasized being one's self, and usually worked outside the 
home. Those who worked outside the home seemed to be 
less likely to experience loneliness. Generally they tended 
to develop a life of their own, and had a minimal direct 
contact with church work by participating in an average 
of only three activities. 

At the other end of the continuum the incorporated- 
participant type of wives had, as the term implies, become 
incorporated into their husbands' work. They expressed 
a sense of call and enacted this call by participating in an 
average of twelve activities within the church. They did 
not work outside the home. The degree of involvement in 


church activity probably aided in dispelling loneliness 
that they might otherwise have experienced. Unlike the 
aloof-participant type of wives, they did not talk in terms 
of being one's self. By becoming incorporated into their 
husbands' work, they had in effect become assistant 

The majority of the wives in this random sample 
(twenty-three) basically perceived their role as under- 
girding their husbands. They were the supportive-partici- 
pant type. Their major contribution, they believed, was 
made within the home. Nonetheless, they were active in 
six church activities. These wives generally did not express 
a sense of call, though seven did. They were aware of the 
fact that the community expectations of them were gener- 
ally higher than those for other wives. As public figures, 
they did not have as much privacy as did wives of laymen. 
They were more likely to be lonely than were the wives in 
either of the two other categories. However, they had ap- 
parently been able to accept these aspects of their role 
with a reasonable amount of aplomb. 


This chapter has endeavored to present what appear to 
be some of the more significant aspects of my research and 
contacts with wives of ministers. Further testing of the 
propositions will further verify the validity of some. At 
the same time, further exploration may show some to be 
without foundation. In any case, it is hoped that the propo- 
sitions, and the attempt to establish certain categories for 
ministers 7 wives, will be provocative and provide the 
foundation for an increased understanding of this impor- 
tant community citizen. At present, the field of knowledge 
pertaining to the minister's wife is an uncharted frontier. 

Questionnaire for Ministers' Wives 

1. If you Have children, indicate the following concerning 

Age Sex Married Single Education Occupation 



2. What is your educational background? ( Circle the last year 

Grade school: 12345678 
High school: 1234 

College: 1234 Degree 

Seminary: 123 Degree 

Other: Degree 

If you attended college, what was your major? . 
3. In what type of area were you reared? 

a. Rural area 

b. Village (up to 2,500 pop.) 

c. Town (2,500 to 20,000 pop.) 

A City (20,000 or more) 

e. Large metropolitan area (100,000* or more) 


4. What is your age? 5. How many years have you been 

25 or under married? 

26-35 6. How many years have you lived 

36-45 on a church field? 



66 or over 

7. What type of work does/did your father (or family wage 
earner) do? ___ 

8. a. How many brothers and sisters do you have? 

Brothers Sisters 

b. Which child are you (first, second, etc.)? 

9. a. Were you and your husband married while he was in 


yes no 


yes no 


b. Did you work to help finance your husband's education 
(if you were married)? 

yes no 

c. Did your husband work while in school? 


yes no 

yes no 

d. Did you have children while in school? 

Before you started to school: yes no __ 


yes no 


yes no 



10. Were yon a member of the same denomination as your hus- 
band prior to marriage? yes no 

If your answer was no, 

did you: remain in your denomination 

change to his 
both changed 
he changed to yours 

11. How would you describe your childhood? 
a. Very happy 

b. Happy 

c. Moderately happy 

d. Moderately unhappy 

e. Unhappy 


12. The minister's wife is usually expected to do different types 
of work in the church. Rate each of the following accord- 
ing to the scale below and put the proper number in the 
space provided. 

1. It is reasonable to expect it and I do this. 

2. It is unreasonable to expect, but I do this. 

3. It is reasonable to expect, but I do not do 

4. It is unreasonable to expect and I do not do 

a. Teach Sunday school 

b. Make visitations 

c. Give devotionals 

d. Counsel with those who need help 

e. Do secretarial work 

Teach study groups (other than Sunday school) 

g. Sweep or otherwise care for the church building 

h. Work in the church library 

i. Prepare and/or mimeograph the weekly bulletin 

|. Work with the young people (other than teach 

Sunday school) 

k. Sing in the choir 

1. Work with the women's program 


m. Do kitchen work for church meals 

n. Speak ( other than at devotionals or in teaching) 

o. Recruit and train leaders for the church program 

p. Help in the vacation church school 

q. Entertain church groups in my home 

r. Others (describe) 


13. It is probably difficult to estimate, but approximately how 
many hours a week do you spend in church work, includ- 
ing preparation? Are you paid? 


14. In a sentence or two, say what you think the * place " of 
the minister's wife should be. 

15. What is your husband's age? 
25 or under 





66 or over 

16. In what type of area was he reared? 
a. Rural area 

b. Village (up to 2,500 pop.) 

c. Town (2,500 to 20,000 pop.) 

d. City (20,000 or more pop.) 

e. Large metropolitan area ( 100,000 or more pop. ) 

17. What is his educational background? (Circle the last year 

Grade school: 12345678 
High school: 1234 
College: 123 4 Degree 

Seminary: 123 Degree. 

Other: 1234 Degree _ 


18. What type of work does/did your husband's father (or 
wage earner) do? 

19. In what type of ministry is your husband? 
a. Full-time pastor 

b. Associate or assistant pastor 

c. Denominational worker 

d. Teaching in a church-related school 

e. Student pastor ( still in school ) 

Part-time pastor (most of the time spent in other 

g. Other (describe) 

20. How long has your husband been a minister? 

21. Was your husband a minister or planning to be one when 
you married? yes no 

22. What part did the fact that your husband was a minister 
play in your attraction to him? 

a. I was attracted to him first because he was a min- 

b. I was glad he was a minister, but would have 

been attracted to him anyway. 

c. I was attracted to him first for other reasons, and 

the fact that he was a minister was incidental. 

d. I was attracted to him first for other reasons, and 

would have preferred that he was in another type 
of work. 

e. He was not a minister or considering being one 

when I married him. 
f. Other (specify) 


23. All things considered, how do you feel about being a min- 
ister's wife? 

a. Very happy 

b. Happy 

c. Moderately unhappy 

d. Unhappy 

e. Called to be a minister's wife and being happy 

does not matter. 



24. All things considered, how does your husband feel as a 

, a. Very happy 

b. Happy 

c. Moderately unhappy 

d. Unhappy 

e. Called to be a minister, and being happy does not 


25. What is the approximate membership of your present 

a. In what type of community is it located? 
Rural area 

Village (up to 2,500 pop.) 

Town (2,500 to 20,000 pop.) 

City (20,000 or more pop.) 

Metropolitan area (100,000 or more) 

b. Does the church have other paid workers? 
Assistant pastor 

Minister of education 

Minister of music 

Minister of education and music (combined) 


Others (specify) 

26. What was your husband's income from the church last 
year, including all fees, car allowance, paid insurance, par- 
sonage allowance or estimated value of parsonage? 

27. How adequate do you feel your income was for your 

a. Very adequate 

b. Adequate 

c. Inadequate 

d. Very inadequate 

28. a. Did your husband work during the past year to supple- 

ment his church income? yes no 

If yes, what did he do? Hours 

per week 

b. Did you work during the past year to supplement the 

family income? yes no 

If yes, what did you do? Hours 

per week 


29. On an average, how many evenings a week does your hus- 
band spend at home? 

30. Does your husband take a day off during the week? 
a. Regularly (practically always) 

b. Usually (more often than not) 

c. Sometimes (about as often as not) 

d. Seldom (rarely, on occasion) 

e. Never (not at all, only when he's sick in bed) 


31. The following are incomplete sentences. Finish each in a 
few words, working as quickly as you can. Write the first 
thought that comes into your mind. Do not change it re- 
gardless of how it looks or sounds. 

a. What I like best about being a minister's wife is 

b. What I like least about being a minister's wife is 

c. My main responsibility as a minister's wife is 

d. I feel that my husband 

e. I feel that the people in our church , 
My husband's salary . 

g. I think my husband and I 

h. I feel that a minister's wife should 

i. Life in a parsonage 

j. I feel that family life 

k. I feel that our community 

1. I feel that our children 

32. How frequently do you find the following satisfactions in 
your life? 

Often times Seldom Never 

a. Am a welcome guest in 


b. Am respected in the 


c. Get to know many inter- 
esting people. __ 


Often times Seldom Never 

d. Receive special kindness 
or recognition from oth- 

e. Others seek my advice. 

f. Can always find some- 
thing I like among 

church activities. 

g. Have opportunities to 
use my abilities in 

church work. 

h. Helping people find a 

better way of life. 


33. All of us worry at times. Are you ever worried or bothered 
about the following? 

Often times Seldom Never 

a. Being criticized. 

b. My adequacy as a min- 
ister's wife. 

a Having few close per- 
sonal friends. 

d. Finances. 

e. Being nervous. 

f. What other people think 
of me. 

g. My health or my fam- 
ily's health. 

h. Working in the church. 

i. Getting along with 

church people. 
j. Not being able to really 
be myself. 

k. Having few opportuni- 
ties to do the things I 
like most to do. 



Often times Seldom Never 
1. Matters pertaining to 

the children. 

m. Matters pertaining to 

my husband. 

n. Feeling that my abilities 

are going to waste. 


34. How do you feel die following items affect your family life 
in the parsonage? 

A real Sometimes Not a 
problem a problem problem 

a. More is expected of me as 
a housekeeper and mother 

than of others. 

b. Lack of family time. 

c. Church people take a pos- 
sessive attitude toward the 
parsonage, making it diffi- 
cult to feel it is your own 


d. More is expected of the 
children than of other chil- 

e. My husband is on call any 
time, day or night. Trouble 

planning anything. 

We cannot buy a home and 

settle down because of 

changes in pastorates. 

g. My husband's position in 

many ways isolates us from 

the rest of the community. 

h. We seem to eat, sleep, and 

breathe "religion." 


A real Sometimes Not a 
problem a problem problem 
L So much of our lives is an 

open book; there is little 


j. Few close, personal 


k. Other people's needs seem 

to have priority over our 

family's needs. 

35. Which of the following best describes your feeling about 
being a minister's wife? 

a. I felt called to be a minister's wife before I mar- 


b. I felt called to some type of full-time Christian 

work before marriage and felt I could do this as 
a minister's wife. 

c. I now feel called to be a minister's wife although 

I did not before our marriage. 

d. I feel no sense of call and see my role as being 

like that of any other Christian wife. 


36. In what activities are you involved outside the local church 
(include denominational as well as community activi- 

1 6 

2 7 

3 : 8 

4. 9. 

5 10 

37. If you were to give some brief advice to a girl engaged to 
marry a minister, what would you say to her? 


Chapter I. A Historical Look at the Minister's Wife 

1. Ernest Burgess and Harvey Locke, The Family (Ameri- 
can Book Co., 1953), p. vii 

2. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity 
(Harper & Brothers, 1953), pp. 258-259. 

3. Margaret Watt, The History of the Parsons Wife ( Faber 
& Faber, Ltd., London, 1943), p. 7. 

4. Latourette, op. cit., p. 981. 

5. Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Abingdon Press, 1950), 
p. 286. 

6. Ibid., p. 290. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Watt, op. tit., p. 12. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Bainton, op. cit., p. 294. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Ibid., p. 384. 

13. Andre Maurois, The Miracle of England, tr. by Hamish 
Miles (Harper & Brothers, 1937), p. 211. 

14. Watt, op. cit., p. 113. 

15. Historical Lectures Upon Early Leaders in the Profes- 
sions in the Territory of Iowa (Iowa State Historical Society, 
1894), p. 93. 

Chapter II. A Contemporary Look at the Minister's Wife 

1. C. T. Garriott, "The Minister in Recent Fiction," The 
Christian Century, 65:732 (July 21, 1948). 

2. Ibid. 



3. Simeon Stylites, * New Look in Preachers' Wives/' The 
Christian Century, 72:1489 (December 21, 1955). 

4. Ruth Peale, " Her Home/' I Married a Minister, ed. by 
Golda Bader (Abingdon Press, 1942), p. 81. 

5. Stylites, op. cit., p. 1489. 

6. Theodore Sarbin, " Role Theory/' Handbook of Social 
Psychology, ed. by Gardner Lindzey (Addison- Wesley Pub- 
lishing Company, Inc., 1954), Vol. I, p. 225. 

7. S. Stansfeld Sargent, Social Psychology (The Ronald 
Press Company, 1950), p. 290. 

8. William Whyte, Jr., "The Corporation and the Wife/' 
Fortune, 44:109-111 ff. (November, 1951); and " The Wives of 

-Management," Fortune, 44:86ff. (October, 1951). 

9. Whyte, " The Corporation and the Wife," loc. cit., p. 109. 

10. Ibid., pp. 109-110. 

11. Whyte, " The Wives of Management," loc. cit,, p. 86. 

12. Whyte, "The Corporation and the Wife," loc. cit., p. 150. 

13. David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, Revel Denny, The 
Lonely Crowd (Yale University Press, 1950). 

14. "Don't Be Disagreeable," Time, 58:105-106 (November 
12, 1951). 

15. William Whyte, Jr., The Organization Man ( Doubleday 
Anchor Books; Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1957), p. 440. 

16. Helen Mosher, " So You Want to Marry a School Admin- 
istrator/' American School Board Journal, 130:30 (March, 

17. V. K. Ort, "The Superintendent's Wife," The Nations 
Schools, 57:56-57 (March, 1957). 

18. Ivan S. Davis, " The School's First Lady," The Nation's 
Schools, 46:48 (December, 1950). 

19. Whyte, "The Corporation and the Wife," loc. cit., p. 152. 

20. Davis, loc. cit., p. 47. 

21. Lora Lee Parrott, How to Be a Preachers Wife and Like 
It (Zondervan Publishing House, 1956), p. 64. 

22. Whyte, "The Wives of Management/' loc. cit., p. 88. 

23. "The City Managers Wife," American City, 71:142 
(December, 1956). 

24. Carolyn P. Blaclcwood, The Pastor's Wife (The West- 
minster Press, 1951), p. 47. 

NOTES 173 

Chapter III. Role Attitudes Toward Her Husband's Work 

1. H. Leo Eddleman, *" A Helpmeet for Man," Open Win- 
dows, Vol. 22 (February 23, 1958). 

2. Blackwood, op. tit., pp. 105-125. 

3. Mira Komarovsky, "Cultural Contradictions and Sex 
Roles," American Journal of Sociology, 52:184-189 ( November, 

4. Guy Ranson, "The Christian Doctrine of Vocation," 
Review and Expositor, 54:584-600 (October, 1957). 

5. Wayne E. Gates, The Christian Pastor (The Westmin- 
ster Press, 1951), pp. 26-42. 

6. Sargent, op. cit., p. 281-282. 

7. Ibid. 

S. Emile Durkheim, "Anomie," Human Relations, ed. by 
Hugh Cabot and Joseph Kahl (Harvard University Press, 
1953), Vol. I, pp. 81-88. 

9. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (Yale University Press, 
1952), p. 47. 

10. Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, tr. by W. S. 
Dell and Gary Baynes ( Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1933), 
p. 264. 

11. Arthur T. Jersild, When Teachers Face Themselves 
(Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia Univer- 
sity, 1955), p. 78. 

12. John Charles Wynn, Pastoral Ministry to Families (The 
Westminster Press, 1957), pp. 196-197. 

13. Komarovsky, loc. cit., pp. 184-189. 

14. Virginia Underwood, ** Student Fathers with Their Chil- 
dren," Marriage and Family Living, 11:101 (Summer, 1949). 

15. George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 1934), p. 212. 

16. Nancy Lawrence, "The Protestant Minister Today/* 
National Council Outlook, 5:23 (June, 1955). 

17. "The Many Lives of a Ministers Wife," Look, 20:101 
(May 1, 1956). 

18. Lawrence, loc. cit. y p. 23. 

19. Whyte, The Organization Man, p. 160. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Wynn, op. cit., p. 184. 


22. Gates, op. cit,, p. 51. 

23. Wfllard Waller, Sociology of Teaching (John Wiley & 
Sons, Inc., 1932), p. 324. 

24. Ruth Benedict, " Continuities and Discontinuities in Cul- 
tural Conditioning/* Human Relations, Cabot and Kahl, Vol. I, 
pp. 110-119. 

25. Ralph Linton, "Role and Status," Human Relations, 
Cabot and Kahl ? Vol. I, p. 101. 

26. Ibid., p. 110. 

Chapter W. Role Attitudes Toward Her Family Life 

1. Rachel Ann Elder, "Traditional and Developmental 
Conceptions of Fatherhood/' Marriage and Family Living, 
11:98 (Summer, 1949). 

2. Wayne Gates, personal correspondence with the author, 
October 27, 1957. 

3. Evelyn Millis Duval and Reuben Hill, When You Marry 
(Association Press, 1948), p. 187. 

4. Willard Waller, The Family (The Cordon Co., Inc., 
1938), p. 353. 

5. James H. Robinson, Adventurous Preaching (Channel 
Press, Inc., 1956), p. 67. 

6. Cited by James H. S. Rossard, "Family Life: Conversa- 
tion Is the Key/' Presbyterian Life, 11:9 (January 25, 1958). 

7. Welthy Fisher, Handbook for Ministers" Wives (Wom- 
an's Press, 1950), p. 24. 

8. Television broadcast, Tex and Jinx Jury, "Is a Public 
Figure Entitled to a Private Life? " National Broadcasting Com- 
pany, February 4, 1958. 

9. Fisher, op. tit., p. 23. 

10. "For Mrs. Preacher," The New Christian Advocate, 
1:112 (October, 1957). 

11. Ibid., p. 113. 

12. Bossard, loc. cit., p. 8. 

13. Florence Hollis, Women in Marital Conflict (Family 
Service Association of America, 1949 ) . 

14. Max Lerner, America as a Civilization (Simon and 
Schuster, Inc., 1957), p. 608. 

15. Robert Coughlan, "Changing Roles in Modern Mar- 

NOTES 175 

riage," Life, 41:109 (December 24, 1956). 

16. Margaret Mead, " She Has Strength Based on a Pioneer 
Past/' Life, 41:27 (December 24, 1956). 

17. TiHa Vahanian, "How Women Feel About Being 
Women/' unpublished doctor's thesis (Teachers College, Co- 
lumbia University, 1954), p. 104. 

18. Sarbin, loc. cit. y p. 226. 

19. Wynn ? op. ctt. 9 p. 196. 

20. Benjamin Spock, " Mothers Need a Break,*' Ladies 9 HomB 
Journal, 75:20 (February, 1958). 

21. Pearl Buck, Of Men and Women (John Day Co., Inc., 

22. Ray E. Baber, Marriage and the Family (McGraw-Hill 
Book Co., Inc., 1953), p. 386. 

23. Ibid., p. 379. 

Chapter V. Role Attitudes Toward Her Church and Com- 

1. John Donne, " Devotions," cited in FPA Book of Quota- 
tions, ed. by Franklin Pierce Adams (Funk & Wagnalls Com- 
pany, 1952), p. 536. 

2. Arthur T. Jersild, The Psychology of Adolescence (The 
Maemillan Company, 1957), pp. 378-380. 

3. Rudolph Norden, "I Turned in My Pulpit for a Pew," 
The Christian Century, 74:789-790 (June 26, 1957). 

4. John R. Seeley, R. Alexander Sini, Elizabeth Loosley, 
Crestwood Heights (Basic Books, Inc., 1956), p. 181. 

5. W. Lloyd Warner, Robert Havighurst, Martin Loeb, Who 
Shall Be Educated? (Harper & Brothers, 1944), p. 36. 

6. "The Pastor and His Car," Presbyterian Life, ll:34r-35 
(February 26, 1958). 

7. Sarbin, loc. cit. y p. 233. 

8. Linton, loc. cit., p. 110. 

Chapter VI. Considerations for Further Thought 

1. Sarbin, loc. cit. y p. 226. 

2. Reisman, Glazer, Denny, op. cit., p. v. 

3. Karen Homey, Our Inner Conflicts (W. W. Norton & 
Company, Inc., 1945), Chapters 3 to 5. 

Ing, the use of qufc^ti^ii^iivs. All the situa- 
tions presented and .:' the conversations 
recorded are authentic. 

Although Dr. Denton addresses his 'x>ok 
primarily to ministers' wives, it may ie i at 
the wives who will benefit lost f"om it wi/ 
be those whose husbands r^d it, for the 
husbands will see with startling clarity the 
nature of the problems with which their 
wives must cope. Ideally, the couple should 
read it together, for the answers to many of 
the questions must be worked out jointly. 

A helpful questionnaire is appended. 


Wallace Denton, a native of El Centro, 
California, studied at Ouachita College, 

Arkadelphia, Arkansas; Southern Baptist 

Theological Seminary, Eouisville, Kentucky; 
Merrill Palmer Institute, Detroit, Michigan; 
and Columbia University, He has served as 
pastor of churches in Arkansas, Kentucky, 
and Michigan. Dr. Denton has had exten- 
sive experience in the area of family rela- 
tions and counseling. Since 1958 he has been 
Pastoral Counselor of the Midwest Chris- 
tian Counseling Center in Kansas City, 

126 560