Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Lynee Lewis Gaillet

Second Advisor

Mary E. Hocks

Third Advisor

Mary Lamb

Abstract

Through Her Own Eyes: Environmental Rhetoric in Women’s Autobiographical Frontier Writing identifies frontier women, those who traveled overland to the West and those who homesteaded, as historical ecofeminists. The purpose of this study is to analyze frontier women’s environmental rhetoric in their journals and letters, which encouraged readers to become closer to nature and get to know it while encountering new land in the West. Promoting a close relationship with nature, frontier women’s writing also implied conserving and protecting nature for future generations, which demonstrates how they can be retroactively labeled ecofeminists. Frontier women’s environmental rhetoric reveals their alignment with Carolyn Merchant’s theory for harmony between humankind and nature: partnership ethics. Although many historians have mentioned frontier women’s emphasis on nature in their narratives, few have explored frontier women’s nature writing at length. Glenda Riley has completed a book-length study of early American women environmentalists, but she mentions only women whose environmental work led to documented activism or membership in conservation organizations. Annette Kolodny’s work focused on frontier women’s fantasies about the west, rather than their environmental rhetoric as a way of persuading readers, whereas my work uses frontier women’s daily writing to demonstrate an evolving environmental ethic that helps to categorize them as historical ecofeminists. An archival project, this study relies upon the archived overland journals of Sarah Sutton and Nancy Sherwin, both housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library as well as the letters of female homesteader Elinore Pruitt Stewart, archived at the Sweetwater County Museum. A visit to the archives at the Sweetwater County Museum yielded the treasure of Elinore Pruitt Stewart’s numerous unpublished letters. Frontier women’s philosophical alignment with ecofeminism made it possible for ecological philosophies to begin taking root in the American West. As historical ecofeminists, frontier women’s writing laid the foundation for the modern-day ecological conscience that makes individuals work to conserve nature for future generations.

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