Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Robert Ulin

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul R. Mullins

Third Advisor

Dr. Laura Ginsberg-Spielvogel

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


For two consecutive summers (2002 and 2003), I conducted fieldwork in the Ransom Place Archaeology neighborhood on the near Westside of Indianapolis, Indiana. I found myself increasingly drawn to the material culture left behind by the African-American women who had lived in the area roughly 100 years ago. Such material culture begs many questions: What social and political forces influenced the construction of African-American women's understandings of self in the early twentieth century? Who was responsible for the construction and dissemination of beauty ideals, notions about women's work, and how did those ideals differ across the color line? Using as an entry points the early twentieth-century material remains and supporting historical documentation, this thesis examines the quotidian lives of early twentieth-century African-American women vis-a-vis a critical examination of race, materialism, labor, and beautification practices across and along the color line, as well as the relationship between the two. The result is an illumination of the complex social, political, and economic milieu in which African-American women lived, worked, and struggled against an unrelenting sexual and racial inequality that continues in the present.