Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-2-2021

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

April Holm

Second Advisor

Anne Twitty

Third Advisor

Paul Polgar

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

This thesis focuses on the perceptions and realities of non-elite white women in the South and how their lives and expectations changed from the antebellum years to the end of Reconstruction. There were many secondary sources consulted both before and during the research process for this thesis, and these sources are listed, alongside their significance, in the introduction. Most of the primary sources referenced for this thesis were newspapers printed in the South between 1850 and 1877, but United States census data and public records were also consulted. This thesis investigates how non-elite white women were expected to behave by white planter-class elite and why the high standards for white women in the Civil War-era South were so important to upholding the southern social hierarchy. The real-life experiences of these women, which we can see reported in newspapers, are also examined in order to analyze the relationship between perception and reality that existed for non-elite white women. The depictions of white women and more specifically non-elite white women that can be observed in these newspapers are also important to understanding the dichotomy in which they operated. By analyzing these women in the years before, during, and after the Civil War, we can gain a new lens through which to understand how southern womanhood changed over the course of one of America’s most important domestic conflicts. The loss of slavery created a new social system in the South based on racial terrorism and white supremacy, which changed the way white women were perceived as a group, including non-elite women. These women lived under a class of elite white men who wished to control them, but they subverted their expectations at every turn in a multitude of ways. These women did not change over the course of the Civil War-era, but the perceptions of and expectations for them did shift in accordance to the desires of the white aristocracy.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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