Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Lutz, Deborah

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Ryan, Susan

Committee Member

Ryan, Susan

Committee Member

Theriot, Nancy

Committee Member

Beattie, Pamela

Author's Keywords

home for friendless women; dress reform; women's clothing


This dissertation is a historical novel accompanied by a critical lyric essay. Through a combination of scholarly research and creative activity, the novel reimagines the lives of the women who lived as inmates and administrators in the Home for Friendless Women, a charity home that operated in Louisville in the late nineteenth century. The critical essay draws from my interdisciplinary background to combine personal experiences, archival and scholarly research, and literary analysis to connect the U.S. dress reform movement in the 1850s, and its failure to change public perception about what was acceptable attire for middle and upper class women, with the morally-laden vocabulary used after a contemporary woman is raped and she is asked, by law enforcement, by well-meaning friends and family, or by society at large: “But what were you wearing?” The novel is divided into three sections. Section 1 is set in 1878 and is narrated by Ruth, an Oberlin college student who ends up at the Home after being sexually assaulted by a male classmate. Section 2 takes place in 1889 and is narrated by Belle, a former sex worker. The final section is set in 1901 and is narrated by Minnie, one of the Home’s Board members.