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Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South
     

Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
 

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Documenting the difficult class relations between women slaveholders and slave women, this study shows how class and race as well as gender shaped women's experiences and determined their identities. Drawing upon massive research in diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral histories, the author argues that the lives of antebellum southern women, enslaved and free, differed

Overview

Documenting the difficult class relations between women slaveholders and slave women, this study shows how class and race as well as gender shaped women's experiences and determined their identities. Drawing upon massive research in diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral histories, the author argues that the lives of antebellum southern women, enslaved and free, differed fundamentally from those of northern women and that it is not possible to understand antebellum southern women by applying models derived from New England sources.

Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
A well-written and thoroughly researched social history.
Library Journal - Randall M. Miller
In her rich and rewarding book, Fox-Genovese challenges many of the conventions about women's history, which has been largely extrapolated from the experiences of northeastern women. Southern womenblack and whitewere southerners, bound by a rural world built on human bondage and race and dominated by men. These women were not passive or victims, but resourceful and resistant. Still, Fox-Genovese rejects the now fashionable view that planters' wives harbored antislavery or feminist sentiments. She places slave women at the center of opposition to slavery. Fox-Genovese has given black and white Southern women voices. Eloquent and powerful; for university and public libraries.
Library Journal
C. Vann Woodward
We have to thank a daughter of the Deep North for digging up and presenting more neglected testimony of plantation mistresses and their servants than has ever before been assembled so fully or organized and analyzed so cogently and provocatively.
New York Review of Books
From the Publisher
"Asks us to put aside simple generalizations and explore the complicated world that masters and slaves built together on their terms, not ours. . . . Fox-Genovese provides a rich analysis . . . without losing her critical eye or her amazing capacity for empathy. Like no other historian before or since."
Civil War Times

[A] well-written and thoroughly researched social history.

New Yorker

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese . . . . succeeds brilliantly.

Mechal Sobel, New York Times Book Review

Virtually every sentence stimulates and every page challenges. . . . A vivid, extensive chonicle of Southern women's daily existence .

Publisher's Weekly

An ambitious book . . . . Elizabeth Fox-Genovese elevates American women's history to a new level of sophistication.

Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807864227
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/09/2000
Series:
Gender and American Culture
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
563
Sales rank:
688,473
Lexile:
1370L (what's this?)
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt

From the Prologue:

What of the relations among the women themselves? Sharing the domination of white men--of the master--did slave and slaveholding women share bonds? participate in a sisterhood? The simple and inescapable answer is no. The privileged roles and identities of slaveholding women depended upon the oppression of slave women, and the slave women knew it. Slaveholding and slave women shared a world of mutual antagonism and frayed tempers that frequently erupted in violence, cruelty, and even murder. They also shared a world physical and emotional intimacy that is uncommon among women of antagonistic classes and different races. Slaveholding women were elitist and racist. With some pain I am compelled to express my considered opinion that, in some essential respects, they were more cruelly racist than their men. Yet they could deeply mourn the death of a favorite slave, who might have nursed them or their children or whose children they (less frequently) might have nursed. Life would be easier if we could dismiss them as oppressive tyrants or exonerate them as themselves victims of an oppressive system. We cannot. By class and race, they were higly privileged ladies who reveled in their privilege, but many were warm and attractive women, and by their own lights and the standards of their society, God-fearing, decent women. They were women who owned--whose husbands, fathers, and sons owned slaves in a world that increasingly recognized slaves as a moral evil and a political danger. Many of them were also women who loved their families, tried to care for their slaves, attended to their own and their slaves' immortal souls, and wrote sometimes entrancing, sometimes moving diaries, journals, and letters. Slaveholding women, like all groups of women, ranged from loving to vicious, from charming to unlovable with all the ordinary human in-between.

Slave women, who displayed the same variation in personality, lived on the opposing side of those antagonistic class and race relations and confronted the inescapable consequences of their condition. Some would like to see them as having enjoyed an autonomy that was denied to the white women of their day, but autonomy may be a misleading word. Slave women lived free of the legal constraints of marriage and lived with the necessity to work as hard as men, frequently at tasks considered inappropriate for white women. At the limits of resistance, they lived with a sense of isolation. Yet many of them loved their men and children, tried to meet their obligations to God and the other members of the slave community, and struggled to create the strongest possible legacy for the next generation. Their isolation resulted from the extreme consequences of the oppression against which they struggled. Beyond resistance itself, the goals of that struggle pointed toward the strengthening of a community in which they could be women among their own people.

What People are Saying About This

Mechal Sobel
Mechal Sobel, The New York Times Book Review

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese undertakes the enormous tasks of telling the life stories of the last generation of black and white women of the Old South, and of analyzing the meanings of these connected stories as a way of illuminating both Southern and women's history--tasks at which she succeeds brilliantly.

From the Publisher
[A] well-written and thoroughly researched social history.—New Yorker

We have to thank a daughter of the Deep North for digging up and presenting more neglected testimony of plantation mistresses and their servants than has ever before been assembled so fully or organized and analyzed so cogently and provocatively.—C. Vann Woodward, New York Review of Books

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese undertakes the enormous tasks of telling the life stories of the last generation of black and white women of the Old South, and of analyzing the meanings of these connected stories as a way of illuminating both Southern and women's history—tasks at which she succeeds brilliantly.—Mechal Sobel, New York Times Book Review

An ambitious book that succeeds as history and as historiography. Weaving together multiple strands of analysis—including the psychological—Elizabeth Fox-Genovese elevates American women's history to a new level of sophistication.—Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University

Virtually every sentence stimulates and every page challenges. . . . With a graceful and intelligent narrative, the author shows how and why Southern women did not—indeed could not—'participate in a sisterhood.' A vivid, extensive chonicle of Southern women's daily existence . . . is documented by passages from letters, diaries and oral histories—selectively and, consequently, effectively.—Publisher's Weekly

Asks us to put aside simple generalizations and explore the complicated world that masters and slaves built together on their terms, not ours. . . . Fox-Genovese provides a rich analysis . . . without losing her critical eye or her amazing capacity for empathy. Like no other historian before or since.—Civil War Times

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (1941-2007) was Eleonore Raoul Professor of the Humanities and professor of history at Emory University. Her other books include Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism and Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism.

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