Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Nabhan-Warren, Kristy

Second Advisor

Adams, Bluford

First Committee Member

Rigal, Laura

Second Committee Member

Diffley, Kathleen

Third Committee Member

Rabinovitz, Lauren


This dissertation examines discourses surrounding religious dress in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly how various forms of religious dress were deployed by women. Analyzing the rhetoric used by women wearing distinctive religious garb as well as outsiders writing about religious dress, I show how religious dress not only held a variety of spiritual meanings for people of faith, but also served as a visual critique of a dominant Protestant paradigm that constructed religion as invisible, containable and private. I also show how discourses around religious dress were touchstones to negotiate larger cultural issues of the period between the end of the Civil War and the first two decades of the twentieth century, including consumerism and fashion, public education and secularism, and cultural imperialism.

I position this project as an interdisciplinary cultural study in dialogue with scholars who engage with a wide variety of sources to trace developments in U.S. culture between the end of the Civil War and the first decades of the twentieth century. Yet, I intervene by drawing more attention to religion, and more specifically women’s religious dress, a category of analysis that has been virtually ignored by interdisciplinary U.S. cultural historians. Primarily using methods of literary and rhetorical analysis, I examine a variety of relevant primary sources, including novels, short stories, newspaper articles, denominational periodicals, promotional brochures, and legal documents such as court rulings and legislative proceedings.

This project also intervenes in religious studies scholarship on dress. Most scholars who study religious dress focus on one religion. By examining discourses of religious dress across multiple groups, I illuminate how religious groups in the United States did not operate in vacuums, either apart from each other or from U.S. culture. Although religiously clothed persons may wear very distinct garb from each other, they share a commitment to wearing a visible marker of their faith. This opens up possibilities for a deeper understanding not only between groups, but also by outsiders. Thus, this project takes a more expansive approach than single-group studies, seeking to place multiple discourses in conversation with one another, especially within a context of hyper modernization, secularization, and imperialism at the turn of the century.


christianity, dress, literature, religion, women


viii, 169 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 157-169).


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Copyright © 2019 Stephanie Ann Grossnickle-Batterton