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Mother Knows Best: Methodism, Seventh-day Adventism, and Dietary Morality in Victorian America

Bailey, Emily Jean (2015) Mother Knows Best: Methodism, Seventh-day Adventism, and Dietary Morality in Victorian America. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is a denominational historical study of nineteenth- and early twentieth- century Methodist and Seventh-day Adventist dietary reforms and contributions to American food culture. It first considers the eighteenth-century health reforms of John Wesley as anticipations of nineteenth-century developments. It then asserts, through the lens of a “long” Victorian period, that Methodist and Adventist women, as wives, mothers, and nurturers, were the most influential among all denominations in shaping food culture through actual and perceived moral, religious, and domestic authority. It also brings to light the ways in which Methodist women contributed to the formation of American middle-class morality through their unique Protestant domesticity and striving for moral perfectionism, while Adventist dietary reformers culturally and spiritually set themselves apart from the Protestant mainline through their dietary reforms in preparation for what they believed was an imminent Second Coming of Christ.

The overall purpose of this project is to offer a more nuanced study of culture and meaning when looking at food as a “signifier” of things like gender, race, ethnic identity, the exchange of religious and cultural ideas, and the transmission of those ideas between generations. From the perspective of Victorian American Methodism and Seventh-day Adventism, it shows the ways in which women from both denominations used food for good health, in the construction of religious identity, to mediate shifting American gendered labor patterns, and to alleviate and navigate moral tensions between abundance and frugality with the rise of increasingly industrialized American food production, and in a competitive Victorian American religious marketplace.

As a study of material Christianity, this dissertation reveals how middle-class American Protestant women participated in the formation and maintenance of normative gendered labor and women’s power. It explores how food was used by sectarian and mainline traditions to create a sacred order and pervasive sense of Christian morality that influenced American life well into the Progressive Era in the opening decades of the twentieth century.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Bailey, Emily Jeanejb43@pitt.eduEJB43
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKane, Paulapmk@pitt.eduPMK
Committee MemberShear, Adamashear@pitt.eduASHEAR
Committee MemberKranson, Rachelkranson@pitt.eduKRANSON
Committee MemberCarr, Jeanjcarr@pitt.eduJCARR
Date: 10 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 May 2015
Approval Date: 10 September 2015
Submission Date: 12 August 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 255
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Religion (Cooperative Program in the study of)
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Methodism, Seventh-day Adventism, cookbooks, Ellen G. White, dietary morality, Battle Creek Sanitarium
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2015 14:21
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2020 05:15


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