CARLA L. PETERSON
Feminist scholarship concerning nineteenth-century U.S. women's culture written over the last several decades has emphasized the centrality of the concept of "spheres" as an important means of understanding the lives of women during this period. Initially focusing on middle-class white women in the Northeast and the ideology of private and public spheres that claimed to define them, this research soon broadened to investigate and compare the activities of other groups of women--working-class, nonwhite, geographically diverse, et cetera--to whom the notion of separate spheres did not apply. Such comparative study of the lives and writings of nineteenth-century U.S. women underscores the extent to which social spheres and the ideologies that attend them are never fixed and stable but are constantly subject to reconfiguration. It also points to the need for contemporary feminists to engage in forms of scholarship that repeatedly insist on reconceptualizing fixed ideologies of social spheres. Such scholarship must remain thoroughly interdisciplinary, grounding itself in methodologies drawn from history (contextualizing women's lives and writings in their proper sociohistorical. framework), anthropology (recreating the cultural perspectives from which women worked and wrote), and literary criticism (analyzing the different narrative and rhetorical strategies used by women writers and speakers as they addressed multiple audiences).
Although never fully articulated, an ideology of social spheres delimiting the arena of African American women's cultural work in the antebellum period did in fact exist. Like their white counterparts, many black women