Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This project uses the experiences of young men and women to show how the language of maturity laid a foundation for the mythology of democratic capitalism in nineteenth-century America. Freed from the bounds of the household but left to the mercy of the emerging capitalist economy, young New Englanders struggled to reconcile the democratic ideals of work with the realities of class stratification. Expected to show their self-ownership through the performance of gender-defined employment, young men and women used their work experiences to display their maturity. Recognition as competent, mature adults required young people to find and demonstrate independence through their work, even as they faced the constraints of the capitalist economy. By internalizing work as the product of choice, the emerging middle class justified its power and solidified the narrative of self-making that dominated the nineteenth-century United States. The expectation that self-ownership depended solely on personal effort entrenched the blame placed on the young people whose lack of resources kept them in subordinate positions.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

David T. Konig

Committee Members

Mary Ann Dzuback, Peter J Kastor, Lorri Glover, Margaret Garb


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