Purdue University Graduate School
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School-Time for Girls: The Depiction of Female Education in Late Nineteenth-Century American School Stories

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posted on 2021-07-25, 00:33 authored by Brittany A BiesiadaBrittany A Biesiada

This dissertation defines the literary genre of the American school story for girls from approximately 1845 to 1910. While recent critical studies have examined the American common school story or the women’s college novel, no scholar has surveyed the genre of American school stories for girls in the second half of the nineteenth century. Instead, the British school story tradition, such as the Tom Brown’s School Days series and twentieth-century girls’ boarding school stories such as those by Angela Brazil, has overshadowed the American genre. I also argue that the study of the girl’s book has focused on domestic (family) stories over the school story. By defining the American school story for girls, this project fills a critical gap and argues for how the school story is an important subgenre of the girl’s book that depicts the nineteenth-century girl in an educational environment with new personal and professional opportunities.

The first half of the dissertation provides a genre and historical overview, while the second half consists of case studies of specific educational sites and types of experience. The first chapter provides a guiding definition of the school story and examines its subgenres. I split the school story into the following subgenres: the common story school, the seminary or boarding school story, and the college novel, and describe their common tropes and characters. The second chapter details the history of American women’s education and provides relevant examples of fictional school depictions. In chapter three, I analyze girls’ seminary (boarding school) schools including The Boarding-School Girl (1848) by Louisa C. Tuthill, Hester Stanley at St. Mark's (1882) by Harriet Prescott Spofford, and Betty Baird (1906) by Anna Hamlin Weikel. This chapter argues for the religious, personal, and professional goals that motivated the girl characters to attend school, and how the fiction depicted society’s expectations for these girls. Finally, chapter four examines three Vassar-focused college novels, specifically the first two books in The Three Vassar Girls series (1883-1892) by Elizabeth W. Champney and Julia A. Schwartz’s Elinor’s College Career (1906), to argue that the college experience created networks to help further the lives of women, while also working to maintain homogeneity.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Derek Pacheco

Additional Committee Member 2

Christopher Lukasik

Additional Committee Member 3

Ryan Schneider

Additional Committee Member 4

Janet Alsup

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