Date of Award

2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Marli F. Weiner

Second Committee Member

Nathan Godfried

Third Committee Member

Richard Judd

Abstract

The following dissertation is a biography of the American author and homesteader Helen Knothe Nearing (1904- 1995). The study traces the chronology of Nearing's life, beginning with her spiritual formation through the early twentieth century Theosophical Society in Europe, India and Australia. It follows her relationship with Old Left socialist Scott Nearing and their pioneering experiments in homesteading (voluntary, self-sufficient living) in Vermont and Maine. The Nearings co-authored The Maple Sugar Book (1950) and their seminal work L i v i n g the Good L i f e (1954) based upon their homesteading experience, along with several other autobiographical texts that, through Helen's promotion, established the Nearings as spokespeople for a simple, rural life in the United States at mid-century. With the republication of both works in 1970, the Nearings would furthermore become the symbolic grandparents of the late twentieth century back-to-the-land movement in the United States. This study demonstrates that Helen Knothe Nearing made their project a public endeavor by publicizing and performing the Nearings' homesteading narrative. In so doing, she served as a social catalyst, an agent for change making Scott Nearing's Old Left radicalism accessible to a later generation of followers. She completed their dialectic of praxis, complementing Scott's theories with her practices as she promoted their personal narrative. The researcher culled evidence for this argument from Nearing texts, secondary materials, manuscript collections, oral interviews and material artifacts. Furthermore, she considered the shortcomings of biography as a genre within the field of history, as well as the limitations of personal narratives as both historical resources and vehicles for social change.

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