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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

Summer 2014

First Advisor

Donna LeCourt

Second Advisor

Haivan Hoang

Third Advisor

Laura Lovett

Abstract

This project uses a materialist feminist lens to examine corporate-sponsored literacy campaigns in “model” cotton mills in North and South Carolina between 1880 and 1920. Building on work in literacy studies by Shirley Brice Heath and Elspeth Stuckey, as well as scholarship on literacy sponsorship by Deborah Brandt and Kim Donehower, my study contextualizes literacy sponsorship in mill villages of the New South as part of “welfare work” programs implemented to introduce rural white workers to industrial labor and town life. Using original archival research in conversation with primary and secondary resources, I follow the (re)construction of deficit in relation to Southern Appalachian white women, who frequently moved with their families to work in the Carolina mills. As public and private texts written by mill administrators and welfare workers picked up on these constructions, I suggest they ideologically positioned the mill industry as providing resources, including access to new literacies, to alleviate rural white poverty in the post-Reconstruction South, creating economic, social, and cultural capital. In addition to studying the motivations behind this distribution of literacy, my work also begins to examine how mill women and their families used the literacies they acquired in these spaces as both tools for complying with mill regulations and to create spaces to exert agency through the cultivation of community outside the structures of the industry.

As a result of this inquiry, I argue that studying specific moments in the history of literacy sponsorship creates a deeper understanding of how the regulation of literacy learning offers increased opportunities and, as Elspeth Stuckey states, can reproduce the violence of socio-economic class stratification. While accessing the experiences of literacy learners in this context is difficult, insights from studying literacy sponsors during the formation of the southern mill industry highlights how literacies are formally made accessible to particular groups of people during particular moments in history to circulate forms of capital within larger economic systems.

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