This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Indianness and Womanhood: Textualizing the Female American Self




Rex, Cathy

Type of Degree





This dissertation focuses on the intricate relationship between Indianness and the formation of a uniquely new identity in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—that of the American woman writer. Colonial and early national writers experienced an uneasy relationship with the “Indianness” they encountered in the New World. Numerous texts, images, and first person accounts in early America envision the Native other and the native landscape in a variety of incarnations, whether visual or textual, in order to create a more stable understanding of the colonial American and the new nation. By appropriating and revising Indianness, early American women writers (before 1830) capitalized on the instability and permeability of both Indian and Anglo-American identities as a ground from which they could contribute to the national struggle to organize a collective identity of what is “American.” That is, through their use of Indian characters, narratives, and settings, these women write into being not only the American nation, but also themselves as specifically American women writers. By writing extensively about Native topics but also by aggressively insisting upon a more complex relationship between race and gender within the same texts, women writers like Mary Rowlandson, Ann Eliza Bleecker, Lydia Maria Child, and “Unca Eliza Winkfield” of The Female American were able to gain control over their own identities. My goal with this dissertation project is to bring often-neglected early American texts by women writers into focus as texts that actively participated in the production of racial, national, gendered, and historical discourses that ultimately provided the framework for American identity.