Appointed As

Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Brown University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, History, Indiana University Bloomington

Dissertation Abstract

"Confined Femininity: Race, Gender, and Incarceration in Kentucky, 1865-1920"

This project illuminates the lives of confined black women by examining places in addition to carceral locales as arenas of confinement, including mental health asylums and domestic spaces. It seeks to explore how these women both defied and defined confinement through their interactions with public, social and political entities of the period, as well as how they challenged Victorian ideas of race and femininity and shaped prison and political reform in Kentucky. Specifically, this project moves beyond an historical analysis of correctional institutions and black womanhood to present three central arguments: first, that black women negotiated the parameters their own confinement; next, that black women’s challenge of confinement also created the space for them to challenge trauma; and, finally, that confinement was not limited to carceral spaces. Other, socially constructed environments, such as the home or religious institutions or ideologies, imposed social, political, and gendered restrictions on black women’s lives.
Black women often engaged in acts of resistance that were not particularly liberating or in pursuit of freedom. If a woman grew tired and frustrated with the abuse in her home, did she view the possibility of incarceration as a temporary respite from family violence? Did black women participate in the informal economy as a reprieve from the confinement of menial labor as domestic servants, or from financially limiting marital relations? This project explores such scenarios and argues that most women were aware that resistance to one form of confinement might lead to life in another, confined space. I contend that these decisions were not made with freedom as a governing goal but to acquire temporary respite from their current, oppressive situation. Finally, it is important to consider that confinement is not limited to carceral institutions, and so this project seeks to make clear distinctions between confinement within and outside of carceral spaces. Domestic violence in the home, expectations of subservience from women, social restrictions imposed by religious ideologies or institutions, and the psychological constraints imposed by physical forms of confinement all influenced the decisions that women made in navigating these spaces.