Michele Dawn Kegley, Ph.D. is a 2011 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dissertation Committee

  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Mary K. Anglin, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Kimberly K. Eby, Ph.D., External Reader


Narrative Inquiry, Situational Mapping, Snowball Method, Life Story Interviewing, Coding, Family, Self Leadership, Women, Middle Class, Mothers, Wives, Divorce, Economic Independence, Storytelling, Education, Social Support: Appalachia, Socioeconomics

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This study researched Appalachian women who were in emotional, social, or economic reliant relationships with male spouses and became socio-economically stable and independent. This effort is to give Appalachian women voice and learn from their accounts of how they led change by financially, physically, and socially providing for themselves and their dependent children. Research is limited to a particular group of white middle class Appalachian women in the North-Central sub-region of Appalachia. This group was chosen because they have been largely overlooked in the literature. However, this study does not answer questions of all women‘s experiences and barriers in Appalachia. African American, Hispanic, and other minority women are not represented. It is my hope the stories of these women who successfully overcame significant challenges in creating socio-economic stability in their homes provide a positive role model for other women of the region. Through a set of criteria, 15 Appalachian women ages 34 to 74 that left their first marriage, were socio-economically stable and independent were interviewed. Confidential interviews recorded participants’ life stories. Each woman discussed her experience in her own voice and explained how she led change in her family‘s life. The stories were coded for major themes using NVivo 8 software. An adaptation of situational mapping was used to contextualize the primary themes. Generational influences emerged as an important theme and three narratives, one for each generational group, are retold as exemplars highlighting the primary themes, Appalachian Characterization, Generational Issues, Children, Economic Independence, Education, Reasons for Leaving, Social Support, and Self-Leadership. Appalachian education experts affirmed the significance of the themes and situated them in the cultural context of the region. Analysis of the narratives and the situational map shows the significance of economic independence, social support, and place to their life stories. Identification of Appalachian women self-leading provides an important addition to the Appalachian studies literature. The electronic version of the dissertation is accessible in the open-access OhioLINK ETD Center