A Respectable Woman: The Public Roles of African American Women in 19th-Century New York

Hardcover (Print)
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In the nineteenth century, New York City underwent a tremendous demographic transformation driven by European immigration, the growth of a native-born population, and the expansion of one of the largest African American communities in the North. New York's free blacks were extremely politically active, lobbying for equal rights at home and an end to Southern slavery. As their activism increased, so did discrimination against them, most brutally illustrated by bloody attacks during the 1863 New York City Draft Riots.

The struggle for civil rights did not extend to equal gender roles, and black male leaders encouraged women to remain in the domestic sphere, serving as caretakers, moral educators, and nurses to their families and community. Yet as Jane E. Dabel demonstrates, separate spheres were not a reality for New York City's black people, who faced dire poverty, a lopsided sex ratio, racialized violence, and a high mortality rate, all of which conspired to prevent men from gaining respectable employment and political clout. Consequently, many black women came out of the home and into the streets to work, build networks with other women, and fight against racial injustice.

A Respectable Woman reveals the varied and powerful lives led by black women, who, despite the exhortations of male reformers, occupied public roles as gender and race reformers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Not only filled with interesting stories of how African American women kept their community strong, but also stories about the strength of the bonds they formed with each other.”
-Feminist Review

“A valuable, insightful study that will change minds about how black women are viewed in nineteenth-century urban society. [Dabel] is the first to analyze fully the neglected fact that New York City's black population was predominately female for much of its history.”
-Graham Russell Gao Hodges,Colgate University

“Dabel offers tantalizing glimpses into the often-hidden world created by women on their own behalf as they confronted the myriad challenges facing them.”
-Canada and the United States

“What is new is that Dabel ascribes to a body of unnamed black women in New York City the role of creating a public face through public actions—the role of ‘reforming women.’ ”
-The Journal of American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814720110
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 5/10/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane E. Dabel is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach.

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Table of Contents

1 “I Resided in Said City Ever Since”
Women and the Neighborhoods
2 “We Were Not as Particular in the Old Days about Getting Married as They Are Now”
Women, the Family, and Household Composition
3 “I Washed for My Living”
Black Women’s Occupations
4 “Idle Pleasures and Frivolous Amusements”
African American Women and Leisure Time
5 “They Turned Me Out of My House”
African American Women and Racialized Violence
6 “We Should Cultivate Those Powers”
Activism of African American Women
About the Author

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