Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South


Although historians over the past two decades have written extensively on the plantation mistress and the slave woman, they have largely neglected the world of the working woman. "Neither Lady nor Slave pushes southern history beyond the plantation to examine the lives and labors of ordinary southern women--white, free black, and Indian.

Contributors to this volume illuminate women's involvement in the southern market economy in all its diversity. Thirteen essays explore the working lives of a wide range of women--nuns and prostitutes, iron workers and basket weavers, teachers and domestic servants--in urban and rural settings across the South. By highlighting contrasts between paid and unpaid, officially acknowledged and "invisible" work within the context of cultural attitudes regarding women's proper place in society, the book sheds new light on the ambiguities that marked relations between race, class, and gender in the modernizing South.


E. Susan Barber, College of Notre Dame of Maryland (Baltimore, Md.)

Bess Beatty, Oregon State University (Eugene, Ore.)

Emily Bingham (Louisville, Ky.)

James Taylor Carson, Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Emily Clark, University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg, Miss.)

Stephanie Cole, University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington, Tex.)

Susanna Delfino, University of Genoa (Genoa, Italy)

Michele Gillespie, Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, N.C.)

Sarah Hill (Atlanta, Ga.)

Barbara J. Howe, West Virginia University (Morgantown, W. Va.)

Timothy J. Lockley, University of Warwick (Coventry, England)

Stephanie McCurry, Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)

Diane BattsMorrow, University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.)

Penny L. Richards, UCLA Center for the Study of Women (Los Angeles, Calif.)


We know too little about the lives of ordinary women in the Old South. We know even less about their working lives. Although the past two decades have witnessed an explosion of scholarship on southern women in the nineteenth century, much of this work has focused on the world of the plantation, where mistresses and slaves carried out an uneasy alliance under the eyes of the master. Women's historians began their inquiry into southern women's history by digging deeply into slaveholding women's lives, highlighting their subordination to husbands, fathers, and white men in general, even as they exposed the important benefits these women reaped by virtue of their class and race. More recently, equally exciting work has begun to appear on slave women. Much of this new research identifies the multiple hardships and tragedies slave women faced, even as it stresses the myriad ways these women established themselves as important historical actors.

Informed by these major developments in scholarship, Neither Lady nor Slave, a collection of thirteen essays, eleven of them original, two of them excerpted from award-winning books, pushes southern women's history in significant new directions by exploring ordinary women's working lives. The volume invites readers to rethink the conventional and limiting definition of worker as paid laborer (presumably in a factory). Although several of the essays examine women in these circumstances, many others deal with women whose work was unpaid even as they contributed substantially to their families' incomes. Thus, their work was unacknowledged, owing to prevailing cultural attitudes about women's proper public image in relation to class and race as well as to the developing social construction of man as breadwinner that accompanied the market revolution. The invisibility of some types of female work in relation to existing social norms constitutes another central theme of this collection. In this regard, the essays present an amazingly wide set of combinations of paid versus unpaid and oficially visible versus invisible women's work. These complexities illuminate key considerations about class, race, and ethnicity, which shaped ideas and standards of social acceptability about which women could perform . . .

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