Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South / Edition 1

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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.
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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807842324
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 12/9/1988
  • Series: Gender and American Culture Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 563
  • Product dimensions: 5.97 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 1.51 (d)

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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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.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Prologue 1
Chapter 1 Southern Women, Southern Households 37
Chapter 2 The View from the Big House 100
Chapter 3 Between Big House and Slave Community 146
Chapter 4 Gender Conventions 192
Chapter 5 The Imaginative Worlds of Slaveholding Women: Louisa Susanna McCord and Her Countrywomen 242
Chapter 6 Women Who Opposed Slavery 290
Chapter 7 And Women Who Did Not 334
Epilogue 372
Notes 397
Bibliography 463
Index 531
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    I am a high school sophomore and I chose to read this book for m

    I am a high school sophomore and I chose to read this book for my project. I thought the novel, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South, was very interesting. It was very long and sometimes hard to read. It occasionally became hard to focus because it jumped around a lot. The author would jump from topic to topic very quickly in a chapter; this made it confusing to read. Though, I enjoyed the way the book compared the lives of white slaveholding women to black slave women. The book provided me with a lot of knowledge of these two groups’. I really enjoyed learning about their lives during the antebellum time period, as well. I like how the book had a prologue and epilogue of a southern woman’s, Sarah Gayle’s, story, it was very interesting. This booked helped me answer many of the questions involved with my project. Although, I wish the book was shorter. The farther I got into the book the more I wanted it to end because it was so long. I feel if the chapters were shorter the book would be more interesting to read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about southern slaveholding and slave women and also have lots of time on their hands. I enjoyed this book; it was very interesting but long.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    I am a high school sophomore and I chose to read this book for m

    I am a high school sophomore and I chose to read this book for my project. I thought this book was very interesting. It was very long and sometimes hard to read. It occasionally became hard to focus because it jumped around a lot. The author would jump from topic to topic very quickly in a chapter; this made it confusing to read. Though, I enjoyed the way the book compared the lives of white slaveholding women to black slave women. The book provided me with a lot of knowledge of these two groups’ lives. I really enjoyed learning about their lives during the old south, as well. I like how the book had a prologue and epilogue of a southern woman’s story, it was very interesting. This booked helped me answer many of my questions that were involved with my project. Although, I wish the book was shorter. The farther I got into the book the more I wanted it to end because it was so long. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about southern slaveholding and slave women and also have lots of time on their hands. I enjoyed this book, it was very interesting but long.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    I am a high school sophomore and I chose to read this book for m

    I am a high school sophomore and I chose to read this book for my project. I thought this book was very interesting. It was very long and sometimes hard to read. It occasionally became hard to focus because it jumped around a lot. The author would jump from topic to topic very quickly; this made it confusing to read. Though, I enjoyed the way the book compared the lives of white slaveholding women to black slave women. I really enjoyed learning about their lives during the old south. I like how the book had a prologue and epilogue of a southern woman’s story, it was very interesting. I also wish the book was shorter. The farther I got into the book the more I wanted it to end because it was so long. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about southern slaveholding and slave women and have lots of time on their hands. I enjoyed this book. It was very interesting but long.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2003

    The truth about a woman's role in the American south

    An excellent work that I personally could not put down. I found it very helpful when writing my novel When We Do Meet Again. Tells the truth about how it was to be the 'mistress' of a Southern plantation. We need more books like this one. If you read HERSTORY books, you need to add this one to your library!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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