Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-20-2019


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Faith Barrett

Committee Member

Thomas Kinnahan

Committee Member

Laura Engel


This dissertation examines nineteenth century U.S. women’s maritime writings to re-evaluate and more accurately represent the roles women played in society. I contend that the nineteenth century ship is a microcosm of the United States and women’s sea experiences and maritime writings reveal their lived experiences and the visible roles they played in their relationships and in public politics. Women’s maritime writings, I argue, challenge ideologies of “True Womanhood” that define women as submissive and passive. Instead, these texts demonstrate how women equally contributed to establishing national identity in the United States by defining appropriate gender performance for men and women. My dissertation begins by discussing working class male sailors (and women who wrote about seafarers), then discusses women who passed as sailors, and concludes by examining middle-class women who accompanied their husbands to sea. I have chosen this structure to reflect the hierarchical setting of a ship and also antebellum society. In Chapter One, I analyze Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Horace Lane’s The Wandering Boy, Inconsiderate Sailor, and Result of Inconsideration,and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; reading these texts, I contend that failed performances of the “Christian Gentleman” are tied to the moral decay of antebellum society, such as the institution of slavery. In Chapter Two, I examine Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s “The Chivalric Sailor” and Emma Cole’s The Life and Sufferings of Miss Emma Cole; through these texts, I argue that women passing as seafarers model appropriate performances of masculinity and femininity and define U.S. citizenship through successful gender performances. Finally, in my last chapter, I consider the sea journals of Lucy Kendall, Margaret Fraser, and Hattie Atwood; analyzing these materials, I claim that women’s “private” maritime writings illustrate the power, independence, agency, and equality women wielded in their positions as wives, mothers, and daughters and how women’s roles progressed throughout the course of the nineteenth century.