Date of Award

Summer 7-22-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Mary K. Klages

Second Advisor

Laura Winkiel

Third Advisor

Nicole Wright

Abstract

The American Female Guardian Society (AFG) was a pillar for mid-19th century American moral reform movements. Beginning in 1835, the society published a bimonthly magazine, entitled The Advocate of Moral Reform, which railed against sexual immorality, the evils of “licentious” literature, and the dangers of an intemperate lifestyle. As a magazine that was both run by and published for women, their immediate aim was to help women improve and bolster family values in the midst of the dangers and temptations unique to city life – the most notable of which was the increasing visibility and acceptance of prostitution and brothels. Traditionally, critics have asserted the importance of the AFG’s periodicals, and American reform literature more generally, because the vehemence and solemnity with which reform writers addressed women constituted a break with previously established rhetorical traditions (as represented in print culture). What critics seem to have overlooked is the fact that the AFG’s writers were using very specific “oriental” tropes of piracy and capture to construct their rhetoric of moral reform. Overall, I attempt to map this project so that the rhetoric of the AFG may be considered within the larger transatlantic framework which characterized 19th century political and economic concerns so that the thematic underpinnings of the AFG’s rhetoric may be better understood.

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