Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Talia Schaffer

Committee Members

Caroline Reitz

Carrie Hintz

Subject Categories

American Material Culture | Children's and Young Adult Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America


Archives, Material Culture, Race, Education, Agency, Ethics of Care


Crafting Girlhoods emphasizes nineteenth and early twentieth century British and American girls' agency and creativity within the prescribed limits of educational crafts—including sewing and periodical-making. My first section shows how girls use psychological means to resist the cultural and gendered imperatives of sewing and tidiness, while my second section shows how girls resisted the censorship and harassment that the newspaper and periodical forms allowed by creating intimate communities in the pages of their periodicals that could help them negotiate these difficulties. In both cases, I will show how the craft forms themselves were their own antidote to the constricting force of education, due to the potential for variation within them.

While craft forms were part of an emphasis on tidiness that was designed to produce normative white feminine embodiment, the formal affordances of crafts also offered opportunities for creativity and subtle resistance to these dictates. From Nancy Reece (Cherokee) who attempted to give back the charity she received at her mission school through the creation of a charitable sewing society, to Christeen Baker (Choctaw) who subverted the individualistic sampler form to create a document of collective witness to her forced removal, to the resistant untidiness of Jane Eyre’s Helen Burns, to the advocacy work of young African American and white women in amateur journalism, Crafting Girlhoods analyzes ways that nineteenth century girls used craft forms for their own economic, creative, and professional enrichment.

While scholars such as Marah Gubar and Victoria Ford Smith have moved the fields of children's literature and history beyond reductive assumptions that children passively consume the media they are given, these scholars’ use of the term agency to refer to children’s literary collaborations with adults encourages a focus on the experiences of only a very small segment of children who were privileged to engage in such collaboration. In contrast, Crafting Girlhoods analyzes agency as situated, drawing on children’s literature scholarship that shows the ways that race has constructed childhood (Robin Bernstein and Nazera Sadiq Wright). Crafting Girlhoods redefines children’s agency as the ability to create caring communities through crafting and promotes forms of engagement with archival sources that better enable the researching of minoritized children’s histories.