Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"To treat her as a woman": African American women and respectability in New York, 1860-1890
by Jenrich, Marissa A., M.A., California State University, Long Beach, 2017, 160; 10254151
Abstract (Summary)

Following the end of the Civil War, the United States witnessed the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments, legislation that abolished slavery and sought to endow African American communities with the full rights of citizenship. These constitutional protections, however, did not fully shield black men and women from the effects of virulent racism. This thesis argues that ordinary and elite African American women living in New York from 1860–1890 actively challenged such discrimination by embracing the politics of respectability, a strategy they believed would improve own communities, while also garnering respect and fair treatment from the city’s white residents. Through an adherence to principles of industry and thrift, spiritual and physical cleanliness, and self-reliance and self-respect, New York’s black women forthrightly demanded a recognition of their rights as respectable women. Furthermore, the elasticity of these principles allowed women of a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds to embrace respectability politics as a viable strategy of resistance, encouraging them to transform the multiple private, communal, and public spaces that informed their daily lives into sites of protest. As a result, such negotiations reveal respectability politics, far from a Progressive Era invention, was a resistance strategy firmly rooted in the experiences of earlier generations of nineteenth-century black women who sought to lead moral, upright lives even in the face of an American society hostile to their needs and ambitions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Dabel, Jane E.
Commitee: Keirn, Tim, Luhr, Eileen
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: History
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 56/03M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: African American Studies, American history
Keywords: African American women, Civil war and reconstruction, New York, Politics of respectability
Publication Number: 10254151
ISBN: 9781369552928
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