English 9196A

Constructing the American Woman: 19th-century U.S. Literature for Women

Instructor: Professor M. Green-Barteet
Fall Half Course.

Throughout the late-18th and 19th centuries, U.S. politicians, educators, and writers were considering what it meant to be American. Writers, in particular, considered how to construct and to define an American identity through literature. Constructing the American Woman: 19th-century U.S. Literature for Women considers what it meant to be a woman, real and imagined, living in the U.S. during the 19th century. Through reading a variety of literature, including conduct manuals, commonplace books, journals, short stories, slave narratives, and novels, we will consider how U.S. womanhood is constructed in the context of the 19th century, as the U.S. developed from a young republic to a nation at war with itself to a burgeoning colonial power. With each text, we will ask ourselves: what is an American woman? who is included in the term? American woman? How does the concept of what it means to be an American woman change throughout the century? Are any women are included or excluded in the definition? Texts may include Lydia Maria Child’s The Frugal Housewife, Catharine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig, Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, Margaret Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Rebecca Harding Davis’ “Life in the Iron Mills,” Catharine Beecher’s The American Woman’s Home, and Sarah Winnemucca’s Life Among the Paiutes, along with secondary works by Linda Kerber, Hazel Carby, Barbara Welter, Cathy N. Davidson, Lauren Berlant, Joel Myerson, and Amy Caplan.