Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

English, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Wendy Martin

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

David Luis-Brown

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

James Morrison

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2023 Rida Leonard

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Studies


In the scholarship that considers ways in which the concept of domesticity features in the lives of black and white women in history, there is less discussion of how these women’s unique challenges led them to alter the traditional domestic space. This dissertation first assesses a range of nineteenth-century American newspapers to understand the prevalent social milieu and then closely analyzes select literary texts of the time, to argue that the distinct racial circumstances that framed black and white women’s struggles enabled them to reform the domestic space as needed. Analysis of the nineteenth century press reveals that while white women resist an ideology of womanhood that restrains their potential to housekeeping, black women battle the impact of slavery. Through a comparative analysis between texts featuring white and black women, I show that black women’s history of slavery and continued racial discrimination makes them vulnerable to the additional challenges of familial dissolution, racially motivated violence and stigmas of incompetence associated with the black identity. My study emphasizes that these distinct experiences translate into the differing kinds of domestic spaces that white and black women create. White women reform the domestic domain to pursue their aspirations beyond the scope of marriage and motherhood, whereas black women advocate for a private realm that facilitates their work in the public space, enabling them to uplift themselves, and the black community at large. Ultimately, this dissertation contributes to the ongoing discourse on the intersection of race and gender in showing how matters of race impacts nineteenth-century American women’s struggle of altering the traditional view on domesticity to create a version that tends to their desires.