Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The ability to imagine literacy influences the way we historicize literacy and research its dilemmas and challenges. Recent trends in literacy theorizing and research forwarded by New Literacy Studies scholars such Deborah Brandt and Brian Street have converged around contextualized approaches to literacy, directing educators to new imaginings of both our literacy-present and our literacy-past. This study draws upon this expanded literacy framework to theorize literacy in the lives of antebellum black women religious of New Orleans. The focus of the study is Henriette Delille (1812-1862), a free woman of color who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family (1842), the first black religious order in the Lower South. Propelled by faith, empowered by a vibrant Afro-Latin Creole milieu, and supported by the Roman Catholic Church, Delille created new spaces for black female action, advocacy, and activism. She founded a community and an institutional matrix (a convent, schools, church ministries, a nursing home and an infirmary) that served as a place of respite from low moral and intellectual expectations for black females. The study discusses how, in pursuing her unique vision of black womanhood, Delille carved out a previously unauthorized role for black women in society as knowers, agents of morality, institution builders, representatives of their community, and most importantly, as sponsors of literacy. The study concludes that understanding literacy in the lives of these women requires the recognition of the multiple literacies engaged in their daily practices: within conventual culture, within schooling contexts, and within families and the broader society in which they were situated. Literacy as conceived by black women religious was enacted along three critical lines, first, as a communal act: holistic, interdependent, and deeply committed. Secondly, literacy was experienced and advocated spatially: literacy was conceived as an embodied act, and advocated by producing and negating spaces. Finally, literacy was conceived as humanizing act, as a public assertion of the black women’s full and equal potentiality. These analyses suggest that from nineteenth century black women religious we might glean an approach to literacy and literacy learning that is at once holistic, community-based, resistant, change-oriented, and pragmatic.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Secure the entire work for patent and/or proprietary purposes for a period of one year. Student has submitted appropriate documentation which states: During this period the copyright owner also agrees not to exercise her/his ownership rights, including public use in works, without prior authorization from LSU. At the end of the one year period, either we or LSU may request an automatic extension for one additional year. At the end of the one year secure period (or its extension, if such is requested), the work will be released for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Petra Munro Hendry



Included in

Education Commons