Kelsey Salvesen

Image of Kelsey Salvesen

Ph.D. Candidate


Daniel Richter (Primary Advisor)

Sarah Barringer Gordon 

Kathleen Brown

Dissertation: "The Word Became Thread And Was Stitched Among Us: Gender, Empire, and Religion in Early North America"

My project insists upon the import of “women’s crafts” in early North America and the centrality of feminine material culture, especially needlework, to understanding broader societal threads.

I argue for the necessity of reading needlework—especially stitched texts—for information about how women and girls expressed their views and in turn fashioned and were shaped by their contexts.To the extent possible, I focus on the women’s own views, while acknowledging that accessing the agency of the stitcher can be a difficult task. Much as with written texts, it becomes necessary to read between the lines of cloth. 

I contend that we can read these textiles as a particular, gendered form of literacy that communicates important information about how girls and women thought and acted in the period studied. Stitched text was deeply intertwined with written and printed text, and yet in many ways a genre apart. This is because of the nature of needlework, and the lived practice that it necessitated—stitching a verse was a wholly different experience than writing or speaking—and because of the gendered expectations surrounding stitched labor. Thus we see, for instance, abused maidservant Elizabeth Parker choosing to stitch rather than write her emotional confession. The task of stitching was one a female servant could visibly yet subversively engage in, covering her real work under the camouflage of daily feminine labor.[1]

Needlework in North America and across the Atlantic from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries reveals much about the ways in which girls and women reflected upon and expressed their identities—religious, political, and personal—as well as the functioning of the societies in which they stitched and their projected and lived ideals. 

[1]Sampler, Elizabeth Parker, c.1830, Victoria & Albert Museum, T.6-1956.





B.A. French and International Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2011)

M.A. History, University of Pennsylvania (2014)

Research Interests

American religious, intellectual, and cultural history; the history of girls' and women's education; feminine material culture; stitched texts; literacies; the French colonization of North America; missionaries and Amerindian Christianity; Catholic nuns and empire. 

Courses Taught

American Origins (Summer 2019).

CV (file)