Mary Meigs Atwater: the many lives of an American new woman
Biehl, Mary Ann
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This dissertation explores the various parts of one woman's life, chronologically but also thematically. Mary Meigs Atwater, known among a group of artisans as the Dean of American Hand-Weaving, was a New Woman, born in 1878 in a time when Victorian American ideals of the Cult of Domesticity dominated society's conscripted gender roles. However, throughout her life, she proved herself to be a pioneer in many fields, regardless of societal norms. Through study and utilization of primary documents -- letters and memoirs serving as the dominant sources -- I have divided this dissertation, and her life, into six chapters: 'The Six Little Meigs Girls (1878-1893)', 'The Fin de Siecle Artist (1894-1902)', 'The Mining Engineer's Wife (1903- 1916)', 'The Weaver Emerges (1916-1922)', 'The Pioneering Businesswoman (1923-1947)', and 'The Dean of American Hand-Weaving (1947-1956)'. Throughout the dissertation are the stories of Mary's five sisters, who also led extraordinary lives. The three takeaways from this dissertation are: 1) Mary Meigs Atwater was more than just a weaving pioneer -- she was a pioneer in every occupation and task she pursued; 2) the symmetries between events of the past and present are incredibly evident through analysis; and 3) just as Mary Meigs Atwater resurrected weaving during a time of machine-made textiles, humans of the 21st century must continue to create beauty with their hands as technology advances and the Artificial Intelligence automation of professions threatens to make the Humanities obsolete.