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Thy Will Lord, Not Mine: Parents, Grief, and Child Death in the Antebellum South

Armstrong, Katherine McVane (2011)
Dissertation (291 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Roark, James
Committee Members: Laderman, Gary ; Prude, Jonathan ; McMillen, Sally (Davidson College);
Research Fields: History, United States
Keywords: Motherhood; Fatherhood; Child Mortality; Bereavement; Old South; Religion
Program: Laney Graduate School, History
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/91b2p

Abstract

ABSTRACT
Thy Will Lord, Not Mine: Parents, Grief, and Child Death in the Antebellum South
By Katherine McVane Armstrong
This dissertation investigates the emotions and experiences of planter-class
parents in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia as they grieved the
death of a child. Through analysis of prescriptive and consolation literature, sermons,
periodicals, and especially the letters and diaries of bereft parents and the friends and
family they turned to for support, I argue southern parents' profound difficulty aligning
their feelings of loss with the expectations of their society defined their grief. Of these
expectations, the idea that mothers and fathers must resign themselves to God's will-
that they must say, "Thy will be done"- was the most pervasive, the most crucial, and
the most difficult for grieving parents to meet.
Though all too common, the death of a child was a crushing event in the lives of
antebellum southern parents that left mothers and fathers deeply saddened, often guilt-
ridden or angry, and bewildered with the meaning of their lives in the midst of loss. The
need to grieve in accordance with southern cultural dictates only exacerbated these
emotions. Still, antebellum southerners' fought to do so, concerned with their honor and
determined to demonstrate their piety and their adherence to gender ideals.
A child's death, her parents' grief, and the tension both catalyzed between
southerners and their culture changed the tenor of plantation life, altering dynamics
between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and masters and
slaves.

Thy Will Lord, Not Mine: Parents, Grief, and Child Death in the Antebellum South
By
Katherine McVane Armstrong
B.A., Davidson College, 2005
M.A., Emory University 2009
Advisor: James L. Roark, Ph.D.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the
James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies of Emory University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
in History
2011

Table of Contents

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

Introduction: "A Mortal cannot live without loving and cannot love without

suffering" . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Chapter One: "To love children is the dictate of our nature": Motherhood and

Fatherhood in the Old South . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

Chapter Two: "The Lord Gave and the Lord Hath Taken Away": The Elements of

Consolation and Southern Mourning Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

Chapter Three: "How full the world is of sad Mothers!": Maternal Grief . . . . . . . . . 105

Chapter Four: "I have been bowed down to the earth": Paternal Grief . . . . . . . . . . 149

Chapter Five: "Our little circle is broken": The Plantation Household and Grief . . 183

Epilogue: The Civil War and Parental Grief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237

Bibliography

Files

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