Research in socio-historical studies of literacy have focused on the social and historical aspects of literacy. While these prior studies have illuminated how we think about the social and historical context surrounding literacy, we have not studied women's literacies in relation to the economy as much. In response, this study focuses particularly on women's literacies during a specific time period, that of the 1960s to the 1990s, which ushered in second wave feminism's fight for equality in the workplace and the change from traditional capitalism to "fast" or "new" capitalism. To develop this inquiry, and find out about women's literacies during this historic intersection, I drew from Brandt and Berteaux's life history interview method paired with Charmaz's grounded theory to conduct literacy history interviews with seven women of varying occupations. All the participants started their working lives between 1960 and 1966 and continued to work at least through the 1990s. Findings show that women used their literacies to document in our society, which demanded increasing documentation, in order to get and keep positions of authority. Some women used a keen sense of audience awareness and ethos to gain the authority to write their own work beyond documentation. These women are the boundary breakers who succeeded in occupations previously dominated by men. The participants' literacies are complicated, however, and it was interesting to find that their education levels did not always match their economic levels. Two of the participants achieved upper echelon positions and earned more than most of the others despite not having degrees. Graff's, "The Literacy Myth", helps explain this paradox, but my research adds an additional contour to his theory by looking at how women used literacies gathered from various sources to gain authority in a documentary workplace. While researchers like Brandt and Graff have done global literacy studies, this study hones in on the complications and particularities of women's literacies during the convergence of two socio-historic trends, feminism and fast capitalism. This study highlights how women used their literacies in a documentary society to gain authority in the workplace. This research also sheds light on the part literacy played in women's ability to succeed in professions previously dominated by men. Understanding the results of this study could help us better understand the paradoxes of women's literacies and work as well as how women have managed these paradoxes when possible. Most importantly, this research sheds light on literacies in our fast capitalist, documentary society, which is a defining feature of our contemporary moment.


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Graduation Date





Rounsaville, Angela


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities


Writing and Rhetoric

Degree Program

English; Rhetoric and Composition









Release Date

August 2016

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)