American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Playing for Their Share: A History of Creative Tradeswomen in Eighteenth Century Virginia

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Andrew M. Schocket

Second Advisor

Katherine L. Meizel

Third Advisor

Mary Natvig (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Clayton F. Rosati (Committee Member)


This dissertation reveals the commonality of public and active women who used creative trades to substantiate their lives in Virginia from 1716-1800. A creative tradeswoman, an existence identified by this scholarship, was an individual who used her musical, dancing, and singing abilities to incur wages. This study focuses on prominent creative tradeswomen such as Mrs. Sully and Mrs. Pick, a traveling musical duo; the singing actresses of the Hallam; Mary Stagg, assembly manager and contributor to the first theater in Williamsburg; Baroness Barbara deGraffenreit, who competed for Williamsburg's premier dancing manager position; and Mrs. Ann Neill, an enterprising music teacher. Despite times of subordination, these women showcased unique forms of creative agency such as acquiring widespread idolization or organizing traveling musical duos. Creative tradeswomen challenged the conventional oppositions between trade and gentry women, education and creative ability, submission and dominance, amateur and professional culture, public and private spaces. The histories of creative tradeswomen demonstrate the fluidity between these binaries while also remapping cultural and social identities as informed by power, subjectivity, trade, music, and dance. As a result, this dissertation illustrates creative tradeswomen as situated within paradoxical systems of power and subordination.

The archives at the Rockefeller Library, Virginia Historical Society, New York Historical Society, and the Library of Congress supported the research. This dissertation utilizes a feminist historiography methodology, incorporating a consideration of cultural and social conditions that bring forward creative women's untold histories. Interdisciplinary in nature, this study makes points of contact between women's history, cultural history, and gender studies. Creative tradeswomen expands the research on women's labor while locating gender and class as major influencers informing a woman's creative labor.

This dissertation expands the normative categories used to shape historical women while demonstrating their contributions to the development of early American culture. This research appends women's creative trade histories into the scholarly conversation and identifies their contributions as valuable components of American cultural history. The history of creative tradeswomen expands the foundational modes of early American scholarship while presenting a rarely included emphasis on women's creative trades.