English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-11-2022


Too many scholars still rely on adjectives such as deviant, unruly, dangerous, and wild to describe women who interrogate rigid forms of womanhood, especially women of color. My project intervenes in nineteenth-century womanhood discussions, which have traditionally solidified three main categories: Republican, True, and New Womanhood. Between True Womanhood in the mid-nineteenth century and the late nineteenth-century concept of New Womanhood lies an overlooked category aptly understood as Lost Womanhood. I focus on newspaper archives, archival research, and imaginative literature to find “lost” women who critiqued a patriarchal system that thrives on women living in a status akin to being socially dead. Recovering marginalized women writers and reexamining how women openly questioned the gender roles prescribed to them proves that an alternate model of womanhood always existed. Lost Women can recognize the instabilities in their lives and work to change them through negotiation or resistance. They deeply understand their second-class status and rebel against it with successful strategies of writing located in their literary texts and the historical archive. Lost Womanhood creates a critical approach to embracing more nineteenth-century women’s material conditions and lived realities. As a more normative form of womanhood, Lost Womanhood directly critiques a patriarchal system that thrives on women as second-class citizens with a lack of rights. This new category of womanhood will remedy True and New Womanhood’s problematic nature as forms of unsustainable womanhood and decenter middle-class whiteness as the principal determiner of womanhood with an interracial approach. Women who would not or could not embody True Womanhood provide a more expansive way of understanding nineteenth-century womanhood in the United States.

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Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Jesse Aleman

Second Committee Member

Kathryn Wichelns

Third Committee Member

Aeron Haynie

Fourth Committee Member

Ariel Silver




American literature, nineteenth-century literature, gender studies, women's literature, black womanhood, nineteenth-century womanhood

Document Type


Available for download on Tuesday, May 14, 2024