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On February 21, 1871, Mrs. Cooper surrendered her one-month-old son Walter to the Foundling Asylum of the Sisters of Charity of New York, a Catholic institution designed to care for unwanted and abandoned infants, along with the letter in which she explains her circumstances and begs that her son Walter be cared for. While Mrs. Cooper’s affecting letter suggests much about the difficult circumstances faced by poor, single mothers in Victorian New York, it also stands as a persuasive text in which Mrs. Cooper makes a case for herself as a mother and a respectable woman. Moreover, Mrs. Cooper’s letter is not unique; rather it is one of many left with infants at the Foundling Asylum. This dissertation analyzes seventeen of these Foundling Letters in order to examine the ways in which the Foundling mothers construct maternal and respectable selves. I argue that the Foundling mothers balance rhetorical strategies of deference and assertion in order to 1) secure care for their children and 2) argue for their worth as women and mothers. To do so, I analyze the Foundling Letters through a braided lens consisting of three interrelated theoretical concepts. First is the context in which the letters are written, which I have conceptualized as three stories: that of single, working mothers in Victorian New York, of the Foundling Asylum as an institution, and of the Foundling mothers as individuals. Second is scholarship on rhetorical strategies of deference and assertion. The primary means through which the Foundling Mothers construct maternal and respectable selves is through the balance of rhetorical strategies of deference—or appeals to a perceived gender, class, and/or moral inferiority (Daybell; Fitzpatrick; Sonmez; Wall; Whyman; Milne; Tebeaux and Lay)—with rhetorical strategies of assertion—or refutations of such inferiority and appeals to equality. Scholarship on deference and assertion, though, focuses primarily on the writing of elite women, which the Foundling mothers certainly are not. Theories of everyday writing, the third concept, provide guidance in accounting for and valuing the everyday nature of the Foundling Letters and mothers. The Founding mothers’ balance of rhetorical strategies of deference and assertion in order to compose respectable and maternal selves illustrates a rhetorical sophistication in a population not often considered sophisticated: 19th century working mothers. In brief, the richness with which the Foundling mothers use writing to compose maternal and respectable selves has much to tell about how ordinary women use writing in their everyday lives. Thus, my analysis of the Foundling letters expands the field of Rhetoric and Compositions understanding of women’s writing, particularly by 1) providing a more nuanced view of deference and assertion as rhetorical strategies and 2) providing a method that future scholars can use to study archived everyday writing.