Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P Whittenburg


What did it mean to be a white female in the eighteenth-century South? This dissertation proposes an answer to this question by using the most widely circulated prescriptive literature (sermons, conduct-of-life advice, newspaper essays, and novels) for women and examining the ways in which women responded to it. In an age in which the focus of female education was identity rather than vocational training, this burgeoning literature was fraught with meaning for women, for it was the source of their understanding of themselves and how they should live their lives. This project shows how women were selective consumers of the literature they read: accepting some ideas, rejecting others, and ultimately constructing their own codes of conduct. It is a difficult problem to discern women's reading of the advice, since very few women identified their reading or left behind analyses of it. Using familiar sources such as inventories, wills, accounts, church records, letters, and diaries in creative ways, however, it is possible to perceive ways that women's reading figured in their lives.;Self-effacing postures, even with other women, show the expected influence of traditional advice; but the example of alternate behavior such as that of two young women who refused to shun a friend disgraced by her seduction by a French officer reveals a complexity to women's behavior that the prescriptive literature never does. In the convergence of religious and secular prescriptive literature by the end of the century, women found the warrant to create as they became producers rather than merely consumers of advice literature, and in so doing, formulated their own model of femininity.



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