Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




H Cam Walker


This study examines the life of Julia Gardiner Tyler (1829-1889) as a means of learning more about elite southern women during the nineteenth-century. It addresses the fundamental question of how an ambitious woman could fulfill personal aspirations without openly defying gender conventions and focuses on a variety of themes affecting American women including: education, domesticity, slavery, politics, and religion.;Julia was a northerner by birth and education who adopted the South when she married President John Tyler in 1844. She enthusiastically embraced and defended southern culture and its definition of womanhood. Slavery shaped the social order and resulted in a system that emphasized female inferiority and limited women's lives to the domestic sphere. From the time John Tyler left the presidency in 1845 until his death in 1862, Julia focused on her household. She was a devoted wife and mother of seven children. A household staff made up of both white and black servants freed enough of Julia's time to permit her to keep abreast of political developments. In 1853 she published a defense of slavery that reaffirmed traditional southern womanhood.;Throughout the sectional crisis, Civil War, and Reconstruction, Julia was a keen observer of political developments in both the North and the South. She was an ardent southern nationalist but was unprepared for the consequences of secession. Access to family members in the North became increasingly difficult as political and military tensions heightened. During the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Julia and her children faced danger as opposing armies moved through their neighborhood. Unwilling to risk remaining in war torn Virginia, she moved into her mother's New York home in 1863 but did not find peace there. Politics divided her mother's household and resulted in violent arguments and a protracted court battle over the Gardiner estate. During Reconstruction, Julia petitioned the federal government for reimbursement for damages to her Virginia property and a presidential widow's pension, while struggling to leave the bitterness of the war behind.;This study concludes that Julia Tyler achieved personal fulfillment through her marriage to the President of the United States. as a widow, she was a strong independent woman who displayed interest in politics but never lost focus of her role as mother. Sometimes she defied social conventions but always reaffirmed traditional southern womanhood.



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