Recently Completed Dissertations


Mercy Harper


Advisor: John B. Boles


"White Women’s Heritage Organizations in Texas, 1870-1970"


This study offers an analysis of three white women’s heritage organizations—the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DAR)—from 1870 through 1970. These three organizations each paid tribute to a different nation (the Confederacy, the United States, and the Republic of Texas). Yet their members shared an ethos of traditionalism and nationalism encapsulated in their focus on celebrating a blood- and lineage-based understanding of national belonging. Historians and laymen alike have long viewed white women’s heritage organizations as conservative; however, the role of white women’s heritage organizations in the various and shifting manifestations of twentieth-century American conservatism have not been fully explored.

This study finds that white women’s heritage organizations—and the discourse of “heritage” they employed—played a critical role in the development of grassroots conservatism in the United States. The DRT, UDC, and DAR in Texas were part of both the interwar era conservative women’s bloc and the post-WWII conservative women’s movement. White women’s heritage organizations in Texas built connections to right-wing organizations such as the American Legion and the Minute Women of the USA.  White women’s heritage organizations possessed a larger and more stable membership than extremist right-wing women’s organizations, though, and were careful to work within rather than against local, state, and national political structures. As a result of their political nimbleness, their influence on conservative politics has been broader than that of more openly extreme organizations, and more enduring.

However, there was nothing pre-determined about white women’s heritage organizations’ enduring conservatism. Before 1920, the UDC, DAR, and DRT were not always out of step with progressive women’s organizations in their goals and ideas. Cross-membership and collaboration were key to the spread of conservative ideals and political strategies among the three organizations. Through outreach efforts focused primarily on education, white women’s heritage organizations contributed to anti-communist and anti-integration sentiment in the state of Texas.




Ben Wright


"Gospel of Liberty: Antislavery and American Salvation"


Advisor: John B. Boles


Americans understood and sought to solve the problem of slavery in terms strongly colored by understandings of religious conversion. In the early-eighteenth century, Great Awakening revivals fueled a new belief in the transformative nature of religious conversion. By the antebellum era, theological changes – coupled with democratization and sectionalism – prompted greater direct confrontation with social reform. Historians have chronicled the role of religion in motivating antislavery thought, but by privileging political action over religious sentiment, earlier work misses non-political manifestations of early antislavery. If we take religious belief seriously and seek to understand antislavery motivations, the question is not whether reformers were gradualist or immediatist in political action, but whether or not they ascribed to the expectations of conversionist or purificationist causation. While conversionists sought to destroy slavery through the millennial expansion of salvation, other Christians looked within, laboring to purify their own communities through coercive action. Imperatives of conversion drove ministers to consolidate religious authority in new national denominational bodies. Forming these bodies had the unintended side effect of pushing denominationalists toward social reform. This process added organized social reform as an additional religious solution, alongside that of conversionist millennialism, to the era’s social problems. In the early 1830s, the conversionist consensus cracked, and a new coercive, sectionalist antislavery took its place. Conversionist appeals continued, but the antislavery of men and, increasingly, women challenged the causation of conversion and began to look to political agitation as a means of reform. Each stage of this progression shaped the worlds of American antislavery. By foregrounding conceptions of religious conversion, we can begin to understand the problem of human bondage and its potential solutions as did the men and women whose lives entangled daily with the reality of a slaveholding republic.







Katie Knowles


"Fashioning Slavery: Slaves and Clothing in the U.S. South, 1830–1865"


Advisor: John B. Boles 



This dissertation examines such varied sources as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eastman Johnson’s genre paintings, runaway advertisements, published

narratives, plantation records, the WPA ex-slave narratives, and nearly thirty items of clothing with provenance connections to enslaved wearers. The research presented in the following pages seeks to reveal the complexities surrounding clothing and slave life in the antebellum South by examining a variety of sources in combination. Enslaved people resisted race-based slavery by individualizing their appearance when working and when playing, but they were ultimately unsuccessful in resisting their exclusion from the race-based American fashion system.

In bringing together previous scholarship on slavery in the American South, material culture, and fashion studies, this project reveals the deep

connections between race and fashion in the antebellum United States. Enslaved people struggled against a racist culture that attempted to exclude them as valid participants in American culture. The individuality expressed by slaves through personalizing their clothing was a tactic of resistance against racism and race based slavery. In many instances, enslaved people chose to acquire and dress in fashionable Euro-American clothing, a method of resistance because it was an attempt by them to disrupt the racially exclusionary fashion system of the antebellum United States.