Unmarried Miss-fits: Single Women and Twentieth-Century Black Culture


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the National Humanities Center during academic year 2017-2018


Amid modernization and expanding opportunities for women in the early twentieth-century United States, unmarried women became frequent subjects of public debate with audiences fretting over their sexuality, safety, and independence. “Unmarried Miss-fits” tells the story of how single African-American women were specific targets of these concerns, as their race, gender, and marital status marked them as “misfits” within a society that valued married white Americans as model citizens. Drawing from literature, performance, medical discourse, and historical archives, this project traces how unwed African-American women provoked and resisted claims that their unmarried state posed a threat to the well-being of black families and US society. Grounded in black feminist theory and the emerging field of singleness studies, this project reveals how marital status impacts crucial matters of everyday experience, including how one imagines home, work, sex, belonging, and the future.