Date of Award


Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Dr. Ed Cohen

Second Advisor

Dr. Susan H. Libby


This thesis paper identifies the ways in which the painters Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Mary Cassatt and the writers Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Barrett Browning challenged the limitations of their sex by engaging in professions outside of the domestic sphere during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This essay first focuses on the negative effects that a separation between the private and public spheres had on women, how these changes came about, the expectations society imposed on women, and how many women learned to cope and step forward into the public sphere. The emphasis shifts to an examination of the lives of Vigée-Lebrun, Cassatt, Brontë, and Barrett Browning and the career paths they pursued as women living in a patriarchal society. By providing a detailed analysis of their works, this essay reveals how each woman maintained her idealized feminine image while she pursued a profession outside of the domestic realm. All four women expressed their creative minds to the public eye and challenged the patriarchal theory that women could not and should not pursue creative ambitions. Their works, both visual and literary, sought out awareness and solicited a reexamination of women’s values, roles, and duties in the Victorian era.