Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Cainkar, Louise

Second Advisor

Rynne, Terrence

Third Advisor

Garner, Ana


Leadership studies scholars consider transformational leadership theory a full range universal theory. It is one of the most taught leadership theories in American higher education. Leadership scholars often cite leaders of nonviolent social movements like Gandhi and Dr. King as transformational leaders. Transformational leadership scholars frequently use press accounts of historic leaders to examine how transformational they were. In this study, I use thematic analysis to examine press accounts of the leadership of three nonviolent social movements: the March on Washington, the Civil Defense Drills, and the Journey of Reconciliation. I compared the themes that emerged to the main tenets of transformational leadership theory and discovered notable patterns and absences. When reporting and writing stories about the leadership of nonviolent social movements, journalists focused their storytelling on a select group of leaders who were almost always male, heterosexual, educated, and had institutional affiliations. The newspaper portrayals also provided a partial and often inaccurate portrayal of leadership, selectively including and omitting certain details. This selective inclusion and exclusion by the press makes it an unreliable source from which to draw conclusions about the validity of transformational leadership theory. I conclude that the press’s use of an archetypal leader, maintain the status quo. Additionally, news stories, as the only data source, are not valid or reliable sources of data to examine if leaders were transformational rather the news stories provide insights into the press’s cultural transformational function. Additionally, the press accounts offer accounts that leadership of nonviolent social movements may be more of a collective phenomenon.