Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Christopher Magra

Committee Members

Lynn Sacco, Kristen Block, Barbara Heath


This dissertation examines the transfer and evolution of gender norms in the British Atlantic World. Wholesale recreation of English cultural tradition was practically impossible, but there was a high degree of transatlantic transfer of English gender norms. Colonists in Charleston, South Carolina adopted the parish system and established private benevolent societies in an effort to recreate English patriarchy in the New World. Charlestonians eventually succeeded in reconstituting English patriarchy on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but, the hardships of establishing a new colony required that they adapt it to their new environment. Wealthy, prominent men served in parish leadership and joined charitable organizations to attain and maintain social status. The men in charge of administering poor relief established protocols for applying for and receiving charity. These protocols provided repetitive public lessons about who had power and who did not. Charitable applications, deliberations, and donations worked in tandem with other public mechanisms to reinforce who had power in Charleston and who did not. Each phase influenced the social status of the supplicant and the patriarchs. First, individuals needing assistance publicly applied for charity either in person or in writing. Second, patriarchs had to meet to decide whether or not an applicant received funds from their organization. Once a decision was made, patriarchs dispensed the award to the applicant. The entire process took place in a public or semi-public forum where the community could see petitioners and patriarchs fulfilling gender roles and confirming their status. Charity and patriarchy were connected in the British Atlantic World.

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