Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Thomas J. Brown

Abstract

Horses have played a central role in human society since 3500 BCE when humans began domesticating and riding horses in large numbers. Horses continued to be important to human society during the nineteenth century as people used horses to drive industrialization, manage plantations, and transport goods, among other uses. Although historians and anthropologists have long extolled the horse’s laboring value, this paper views the horse and horsemanship (i.e., horseback riding, horse training) in a social context. Through the examination of newspapers, fictional literature, and manuals, this paper argues that Americans used horses and horsemanship to reinforce antebellum gender expectations. Reinforcing expectations of masculinity and femininity was especially important from 1830 to 1861 because gender expectations were fluctuating during this time. Thus, nineteenth-century men and women used literature to lay out clear rules for how men and women ought to ride horses to ensure they upheld traditional masculine and feminine expectations, respectively. Such gendered language demonstrates antebellum Americans’ anxiety that some people would transgress their gender while simultaneously revealing their commitment to patriarchal hierarchy. By analyzing horses and horsemanship through a gendered lens, this paper contributes to historians’ efforts to understand the power of gender constructs and performance in antebellum America.

Available for download on Thursday, May 15, 2025

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