Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960

Overview

As African American women left slavery and the plantation economy behind, many entered domestic service in southern cities and towns. Cooking was one of the primary tasks they performed in white employers' homes, profoundly shaping southern foodways and culture. In the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave ...

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Overview

As African American women left slavery and the plantation economy behind, many entered domestic service in southern cities and towns. Cooking was one of the primary tasks they performed in white employers' homes, profoundly shaping southern foodways and culture. In the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave cooking for more lucrative and less oppressive manufacturing, clerical, or professional positions. Through letters, autobiography, and oral history, this book evokes African American women's voices from slavery to the open economy, examining their lives at work and at home.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Skillfully researched, lucidly written, and thoughtful. . . . This book appears at a crucial moment, presenting a beautifully crafted historical narrative that contextualizes Kathryn Stockett's The Help. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"Thanks to Professor Sharpless for allowing these cooks to make real the travails and triumphs they endured. May her volume continue to break down the stereotypes that plague us to this day."—Gastronomica

"A fresh and engaging read."—Journal of Southern History

"[An] excellent new history of African American cooks in the U.S. South . . . . Sharpless's book offers a valuable model for labor historians, as it portrays work and life as inextricably linked but not mutually definitive."—American Historical Review

"Expertly details the changes in African American women's economic and employment opportunities from emancipation until the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. . . . [A] fine work."—Journal of Social History

"Sharpless presents a visceral and engaging account of each passing moment in the day of an African-American cook."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"An intriguing account of the personal and public lives of African American domestic workers from Reconstruction to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement."—Southern Cultures

"Sharpless labors to fill a pantry with stories from the legion of southerners who experienced a remarkable slice of American history."—Ohio Valley History

"Using plantation account books, memoirs from servants, Federal Writers' Project narratives, cookbooks, and census records, Sharpless excavates the experiences of the black domestic working class in the South."—Journal of African American History

"Sharpless offers an in-depth and complete portrait of African American cooks and the nature of their work and lives in this period. The cooks' voices are very compelling, and Sharpless does a good job of letting them largely speak for themselves."—Oral History Forum
"Sharpless' book is wonderfully detailed, and provides voice for the often overlooked African-American domestic. . . . Highly recommended."—Labour/Le Travail

"The robust descriptions of cooks' day-to-day tasks, their relationships with employers, and personal lives enrich the literature on domestic workers by drawing attention to specializations within the domestic-work labor market."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Well written, painstakingly researched, and carefully situated in the scholarly literature about foodways . . . . A rich and much needed addition." —Florida Historical Quarterly

"A fascinating examination of black women's domestic employment as they transitioned from being slaves to being free laborers."—The North Carolina Historical Review

From the Publisher
"Sharpless labors to fill a pantry with stories from the legion of southerners who experienced a remarkable slice of American history."
-Ohio Valley History

"Sharpless offers an in-depth and complete portrait of African American cooks and the nature of their work and lives in this period. The cooks' voices are very compelling, and Sharpless does a good job of letting them largely speak for themselves."
-Oral History Forum

"Sharpless' book is wonderfully detailed, and provides voice for the often overlooked African-American domestic. . . . Highly recommended."
-Labour/Le Travail

"Using plantation account books, memoirs from servants, Federal Writers' Project narratives, cookbooks, and census records, Sharpless excavates the experiences of the black domestic working class in the South."
-Journal of African American History

"Sharpless's engaging use of primary evidence allows African American cooks themselves to define, describe, and interpret their work, their skills, and the contours of their lives. This book is a pleasure to read and an important, impressive piece of scholarship."—Lu Ann Jones, author of Mama Learned Us to Work: Farm Women in the New South

"Anyone who wants to know the real story behind Kathryn Stockett's book The Help will savor Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens, Rebecca Sharpless's compelling history of southern domestic work. It's a riveting read and it's nonfiction."—Jessica B. Harris, Queens College, author of Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa's Gifts to New World Cooking

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Rebecca Sharpless is associate professor of history at Texas Christian University. She is author of Fertile Ground, Narrow Choices: Women on Texas Cotton Farms.

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