Walking the Line: The Legacy of the Lost Cause in Redefining Femininity at the Normal, 1909-1942
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Date of Graduation
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Margaret Mulrooney
The students who attended the State Normal and Industrial School at Harrisonburg during the early period (1909 – 1942) used social organizations to echo, amplify, and rehearse Lost Cause hierarchies of class, gender, and race. The Lee and Lanier Literary Societies were the two elite groups on campus which provided spaces for the women to practice these societal norms. These groups created a system of gatekeeping that ensured exclusivity and elevated the social standing of those who were members. These organizations were spaces to rehearse refinement and to practice the white women’s own roles in society. Their understanding of their own social place in the order of the New South was critical to perpetuating the imagined gender ideals of the Old South. The women who attended the college were a part of a new generation in the South with an unprecedented potential outside of the private sphere. Yet they were raised in the shadow of the romanticized Old South. The women who attended the college were tasked with navigating this delicate balance between Old and New South. Lastly, the college was also a space that amplified white supremacy and perhaps this is still one of the most visible legacies of the early years. Reverence for Confederate leaders, iconography, and minstrel shows echoed white supremacy outside of the institution and played a foundational role as the women sought to understand their own identities as Southerners and Americans. The women crafted these identities through the practice and rehearsal of hierarchies of class, race, and gender. When they left the college there was no doubt what each of the women’s roles in society was as they had spent their years on campus rehearsing. The young women carried with them the weight of a false heritage of the Civil War as they walked the line between the Old and the New South.
Page, Jennifer D., "Walking the Line: The Legacy of the Lost Cause in Redefining Femininity at the Normal, 1909-1942" (2022). Masters Theses, 2020-current. 186.
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