TitleMartha Washington goes shopping
NameWestkaemper, Emily M. (author), Lears, Jackson (chair), Hewitt, Nancy (co-chair), Smith, Bonnie (internal member), Scanlon, Jennifer (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
Women in popular culture
DescriptionThis dissertation expands the definition of women’s social activism to include the innovative work of activists, intellectuals, and corporations creating popular historical narratives. As twentieth century American women assumed new social, political, and economic roles, popular media sentimentalized historical figures like Martha Washington as models for present-day domesticity, constructing colonial and antebellum womanhood as historical precedents for contemporary gendered and racialized divisions of labor. Magazines, advertisements, radio programs, films, and product packaging idealized the middle-class female consumer’s domestic role as a timeless contribution to American democracy, encouraging contemporary women to continue privileging familial over political roles.
At the same time, women advertisers, magazine editors, department store executives, radio writers, and popular historians responded, constructing more dynamic narratives of progress in women’s status, both in their own work and in their collective efforts on behalf of women’s professional rights. Recent scholarship identifies amateur writing and historical preservation as alternative careers forged by twentieth century women excluded from the academic profession. This dissertation reveals that popular media also narrated the history of women as key players in political and economic change. In the late 1930s, the Philadelphia Club of Advertising Women, a prominent professional group, produced a series of local radio programs dramatizing the lives of transgressive female historical figures. Simultaneously, historian Mary Ritter Beard and journalist Eva vom Baur Hansl collaborated with the U. S. Office of Education to produce national radio programs dramatizing women’s roles as “co-makers” of history and promoting Beard’s development of the World Center for Women’s Archives.
These constructions of the past made claims for women’s professional capabilities and historical significance, but they also drew on the dominant culture’s pre-existing cultural scripts for gender, racial, and national differences. Celebrations of business women’s histories often assumed white middle-class cultural superiority. As second wave feminists in the 1960s and 1970s strove to reclaim women’s history as a route to feminist consciousness, reception of their efforts was shaped by these complex constructions of women’s history that had become central to mass media. This dissertation thus reveals the integral role of popular culture in defining “women’s history” for public audiences.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references (p. 252-262)
Noteby Emily M. Westkaemper
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.