Lights hanging inside the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center

Corey Dahl

Major: English and Economics
Topic: Dime Novels and the Female Detective – How Did They Speak to the Working Class?
Faculty Mentor:

Dr. Alexis Easley

My research revealed the tremendous contribution dime novels have made to the overall political and societal climate for working-class women at the turn of the twentieth century.

Female detective heroes began to appear in novels during a time of tremendous political and social change, including the advancement of women's rights. Most of these "mainstream" female detectives abided by Victorian expectations for women, such as traditional gender roles in courtship, relationships and marriage. Women submitted to the authority of men and the institutions they controlled and were reminded what it meant to be a lady detective.

More progressive representations are found in dime novels of that era. This neglected genre features detectives who are mentally and physically strong and move away from traditional gender stereotypes. Dime novels exposed working-class women to issues of gender expression and suffrage. As the women's rights movement advanced, these female detectives moved further from Victorian gender norms and began to understand the benefits of independence and the subversion of traditional gender roles.

Favorite part of the project:

I was able to read original copies of dime novels that were over 100 years old. I felt accomplished when I finished my research report – I fell in love with my major all over again.