Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Scott R Nelson
This dissertation examines the construction of historical memory of the abolitionist movement in the United States between 1865 and 1945. Specifically, it seeks to understand why the construction of celebratory memory of abolitionism occurred during a period of backsliding in the political status of African Americans. Using a series of case studies, this dissertation argues that the memory of abolitionism was more fragmented and more susceptible to local variation than existing scholarship acknowledges. The simultaneity of new patterns of remembrance of abolitionism with regressive political trends is unsurprising because the memory of abolitionism served a wide variety of ideological ends, and the content of the memory was inextricably shaped by the scale at which it was created. This allowed abolitionist history to become embedded in local progress narratives within Northern communities, even as Reconstruction collapsed and Jim Crow spread across the South. The dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter One addresses shifts in how abolitionists and the residents of Alton, Illinois, remembered the murder of the abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy in Alton in 1837. It asks how the same town that countenanced anti-abolitionist mob violence in 1837 came to construct a monument to Lovejoy in 1897, with an emphasis on how antebellum polemical narratives about abolitionists and Lovejoy persisted and changed in the post-Civil War period. Chapter Two follows the afterlife of another episode of anti-abolitionist violence by tracing the evolution of local thinking about Prudence Crandall, an abolitionist teacher who local leaders forced to close her school for African American girls in Canterbury, Connecticut, with the help of the Connecticut legislature, in 1834. By the 1880s, shifts in public opinion about Crandall led the state legislature to approve an apology and pension for her. Chapter Three situates the 1872 publication of William Still’s The Underground Railroad in its Reconstruction political context. It argues that Still’s promotion of the memory of the Underground Railroad was shaped by his own views about postwar African American politics in Philadelphia. Chapters Four and Five use Underground Railroad survey correspondence collected by Wilbur H. Siebert to trace how localized remembrances of the Underground Railroad shifted across the North between the 1890s and the 1940s.
© The Author
Guerci, Mark Thomas, "From Cause To Curiosity: The Underground Railroad And Abolitionism In American Memory, 1865-1945" (2021). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1638386839.
Available for download on Friday, August 27, 2027