Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Todd N. Thompson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

James M. Cahalan, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David B. Downing, Ph.D.


This dissertation demonstrates how many of the works of American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911) can be interpreted as functioning in an ecofeminist-homiletic manner. This study has two main goals. One is to draw greater attention to the brilliance of Phelps’s work, which is often dismissed because of its didacticism and sentimentality. The second goal is to argue that ecofeminism and religion, especially homiletics, are highly relevant to postbellum literature. Therefore, applying an ecofeminist-homiletic heuristic to literary analysis reveals significant patterns in postbellum literature generally overlooked or minimized. Chapter One first surveys postbellum preaching to identify its key characteristics and then provides an overview of ecofeminism, including its theological applications, to arrive at an ecofeminist-homiletic heuristic with which to analyze Phelps’s works. Chapters Two through Four demonstrate how nine of Phelps’s works can be interpreted as functioning like ecofeminist sermons. Chapter Two applies this heuristic to Phelps’s Gates trilogy, which consists of The Gates Ajar (1868), Beyond the Gates (1883), and The Gates Between (1887). The novels of the trilogy function like ecofeminist sermons primarily by describing heaven as a realm that blurs the boundaries between the natural and the spiritual as well as between male and female. Chapter Three focuses on Hedged In (1870), The Silent Partner (1871), and A Singular Life (1895), in which nature often reacts negatively to patriarchy, even functioning at times in lieu of the wrath of God. Chapter Four examines how Phelps addresses androcentric and anthropocentric biases in the scientific and medical community in The Story of Avis (1877), Dr. Zay (1882), and Trixy (1904). To demonstrate the relevance of the ecofeminist-homiletic heuristic to postbellum fiction in general, Chapter Five applies the heuristic to three postbellum works outside of Phelps’s oeuvre: Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” (1886), Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899). The conclusion suggests how this study would be useful for preachers who wish to improve their skills.