Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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.
Chair and Committee
David T. Konig
Mary Ann Dzuback, Peter J Kastor, Lorri Glover, Margaret Garb
Green, Jane Fiegen, "The Boundaries of Youth: Labor, Maturity, and Coming of Age in Early Nineteenth-Century New England, 1790-1850" (2014). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 366.