Women's Apostate Narratives and the Fate of the Family in Antebellum America
Berman, Cassandra Nicole
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This thesis explores women's apostate narratives in antebellum America, focusing on best-selling literature castigating Shakers, Catholics, and Mormons. The narratives I analyze were also associated with mob activity against these religious communities. I argue that the narratives and their attendant mob activity did not function primarily as commentary against non-mainstream religious communities. Rather, they were fundamentally concerned with the fate of the patriarchal Protestant family. The texts depicted communities on the fringe of society, and their authorship was attributed to women who could not claim full rights as American citizens. In many ways these groups were relatively powerless, as were the female apostates who criticized them. In the antebellum period, however, these religious communities and the women who wrote against them became vehicles for profound commentary on the patriarchal family, an institution seen as central to maintaining social order and forging national identity in the newly United States.