Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Eric Garberson


This interdisciplinary project offers new research to introduce the American cult of the bosom, which emerged in the years following the Revolutionary War and helped shape the discourse around women’s roles in the early republic. The cult of the bosom sought to shift the way in which the female body, and especially the bosom, was regarded and represented by identifying it as the locus of a number of positive qualities associated with women, including virtue, modesty, beauty, and grace. This shift constituted, in the minds of citizens, a significant way in which American culture honored and celebrated women. Additionally, the cult of the bosom tied the bosom’s privileged status to a broader patriotic rhetoric that celebrated the special differences of America’s women and American culture as a whole, and insisted that, while most citizens of the world saw its potential to gratify lust, Americans were sufficiently enlightened to consider and celebrate the bosom’s ‘true’ function as a signifier of sacred womanhood. Through a variety of cultural materials, this project traces the points at which beauty, virtue, femininity, and the female body intersected in the early republic and the implications of these intersections for the political and social status of women. The study consists of five thematic chapters, which address textual foundations for the discourse on the bosom and female modesty in early republican America and examine female portraits of the period in order to identify the visual codes that represented patriotic ideology and signified the bosom.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2012