Women and Children First


Women and Children First

Nineteenth-Century Sea Narratives and American Identity

Robin Miskolcze

244 pages
17 illus.


April 2012


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eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

January 2008


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About the Book

At a crucial time in American history, narratives of women in command or imperiled at sea contributed to the construction of a national rhetoric. Robin Miskolcze makes her case by way of careful readings of images of women at sea before the Civil War in her book Women and Children First. Though the sea has traditionally been interpreted as the province of men, women have gone to sea as mothers, wives, figureheads, and slaves. In fact, in the nineteenth century, women at sea contributed to the formation of an ethics of survival that helped to define American ideals. This study examines, often for the first time, images of women at sea in antebellum narratives ranging from novels and sermons to newspaper accounts and lithographs.
Anglo-American women in antebellum sea narratives are often portrayed as models of American ideals derived from women’s seemingly innate Christian self-sacrifice. Miskolcze argues that these ideals, in conjunction with the maritime directive of “women and children first” during sea disasters, in turn defined a new masculine individualism, one that was morally minded, rooted in Christian principles, and dedicated to preserving virtue. Further, Miskolcze contends that without the antebellum sea narratives portraying the Christian self-sacrifice of women, the abolitionist cause would have suffered. African American women appealed to the directive of “women and children first” to make manifest their own womanhood, and by extension, their own humanity.

Author Bio

Robin Miskolcze is an assistant professor of English at Loyola Marymount University.


"Students of antebellum literary and maritime history would do well to peruse this book."—T. H. Richardson, Choice

"While scholarly interest in sea literature and history has traditionally been scant, there is a current surge of new work in the field to which this study will certainly contribute."—Hester Blum, American Historical Review

"Women and Children First is a solid work that should pique the interest of Americanist scholars."—Patrick Gleason, Legacy

"The sea was an important touchstone, materially and imaginatively, in American life in the nineteenth century, that scholars of American religion would do well to explore. Miskolcze's book is a good place to start."Richard J. Callahan, Journal of Church History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Shipwreck Narratives in Early American Literature

2. Women and Children First

3. Women and the Middle Passage

4. Englishwomen and U.S. Shipwreck Narratives

5. Cross-Dressed Female Seafarers in Early American Popular Literature




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