Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Marion Rust


Where We Belong: Spatial Imagining in American Women’s Life Narratives, 1859-1912, studies three marginalized and disadvantaged American women’s self-life narratives during a transitional period in American history. In this dissertation, I am taking an interdisciplinary approach. Where We Belong borrows from social geography, new materialism, and autobiography studies in order to complicate critical discussions of women’s space and place in nineteenth-century women’s self-life narratives. Each chapter of Where We Belong presents a case study with the goal to provide a broader understanding of women’s strategies of belonging due to and despite their spatial exclusions. The overarching emphasis in each chapter remains on the female body’s spatial movement. Exploring Eliza Potter’s A Hairdresser’s Experience in High Life (1859), Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes; Or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868), and Mary Antin’s The Promised Land (1912), I claim that material spaces and these women’s corporeal bodies are inseparable. The three cases I present in this project exemplify how marginal women develop strategies of belonging in spaces from which they have been excluded. These women demonstrate ways of belonging (where they are assumed not to) enacted by self-life narratives. Belonging is not a passive way of being: it is activism that disrupts strict categories and definitions, such as blackness, in American literary scholarship. It contains paradoxes of acquiescence and self-declaration.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)