Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Todd N. Thompson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Veronica Watson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Tanya Heflin, Ph.D.


This project draws on hemispheric American studies, new historicism, and feminist scholarship to explore connections between the antebellum temperance movement and U.S. imperialism. Employing Amy Kaplan’s concept of “manifest domesticity,” I argue that white female authors used meanings ascribed to male frontier drunkards to argue for their own importance to the imperial enterprise. In Western texts by white women, the white female character becomes a necessary controlling and civilizing force on the frontier. More radically, temperance tropes within these texts also facilitate the creation of a new imagined position for frontier white women beyond the domestic sphere.

Throughout, Edward Watts’s application of settler postcolonialism to eighteenth and nineteenth-century U.S. literature informs the analysis, as does work by scholars in hemispheric American studies interested in the contact zones and perpetually shifting borders of the pre-Civil War U.S. The first chapter historicizes the nineteenth century temperance movement. It also defines the theoretical approaches used, including Kaplan’s manifest domesticity and Watts’s settler postcolonialist reading strategy. Chapter two examines William Apess’s autobiography A Son of the Forest alongside Walt Whitman’s Franklin Evans or The Inebriate; A Tale of the Times and argues that even in the apparently “settled” urban east, anxiety about intemperance was fueled by a concomitant anxiety about how completely U.S. whites possessed the land. Chapter three assesses how white women’s temperance stories set on the frontier responded to male-authored frontier narratives, ending with an extended reading of Caroline Kirkland’s A New Home, Who’ll Follow as a settler text. Chapter four takes up The Kansas Emigrants by Lydia Child and Western Border Life: Or What Fanny Hunter Saw and Heard in Kanzas and Missouri to discuss how temperance, women’s rights, and U.S. empire intersected in discussions of the“Bleeding Kansas” conflict. The conclusion argues that western temperance tropes were used to create a “usable past” for late nineteenth century white temperance women.