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Domestic Artifacts, Political Practices: An Archaeology of Women's Reform Efforts and the Home, 1854-1939


This dissertation examines issues of gender, practice, and sociopolitical reform efforts through the lens of household archaeology. Archaeological and historical research undertaken at the homes of Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898) and May Shepard Cheney (1862-1942) provide a means of examining how gender ideologies were lived and negotiated in practice in contexts of homes that were integrally involved in sociopolitical reform efforts. Gage, who fought for suffrage and woman's rights during the late 19th century, and Cheney, who used her administrative position at the University of California, Berkeley during the early 20th century to advocate for women's social, political, and economic opportunities, both brought elements of their reform work into their homes. By examining artifacts such as tea wares, children's toys, a Japanese garden, and canning jars, I show how the Gage and Cheney households deftly navigated the gendered norms of their time while simultaneously working to reform those norms. Through this, I also highlight the significance of their husbands, Henry Hill Gage and Warren Cheney, and children in these negotiations within the home.

The use of material culture in reform pursuits at these sites highlights the multivalent nature of meanings attributable to objects, and emphasizes that ownership of particular household materials does not mean that a particular household necessarily adhered to hegemonic gender ideologies. Instead, household material culture was used by these two households in ways that suited their reform ideals.

This dissertation is also an example of feminist-inspired collaborative archaeology. Work at both sites was conducted in ways that sought to demystify the process of research and foster less-hierarchical relationships with stakeholders.

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