Date of Award

Winter 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lee V. Chambers

Second Advisor

Virginia D. Anderson

Third Advisor

Peter H. Wood

Fourth Advisor

Ralph Mann

Fifth Advisor

Robert Buffington


This dissertation utilizes social and cultural history approaches to examine southern slaveholding women’s diaries, seeking to answer this central question: what can these diaries reveal about how white southern women of the slaveholding classes met challenges to the slaveholding ideology during the Civil War? I read elite slaveholding women’s diaries for evidence of moments of disjuncture between the slaveholding class’s professed perspective and the doubt and mental struggle that confronted slaveholding women when they were faced with evidence that this perspective was either inadequate to explain their lived experience or, more frightening for the diarists, when that experience came into direct conflict with prevailing ideologies. I utilize the term “disjuncture” to identify those moments of crisis when diarists encountered a disconnect between what the slaveholding/white supremacist ideology prescribed and their own lived experiences. During the war, slaveholding white women in the South coped with these jarring moments in part by writing about the problem in their diaries and by using those private spaces to formulate a resolution to the crisis. I conclude that women of the slaveholding class sought to reconcile their feelings with social expectations through their private writings. These diaries served as a safe venue for women who were sometimes frustrated by the expectations that limited their ability to shape their own lives or challenge the slaveholding ideology that informed their identities, provided status, and gave their lives a sense of order.

Available for download on Thursday, May 16, 2019