Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender, and Population Politics after Slavery

Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender, and Population Politics after Slavery

Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender, and Population Politics after Slavery

Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender, and Population Politics after Slavery

Synopsis

This innovative book traces the history of ideas and policymaking concerning population growth and infant and maternal welfare in Caribbean colonies wrestling with the aftermath of slavery. Focusing on Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados from the nineteenth century through the 1930s, when violent labor protests swept the region, Juanita De Barros takes a comparative approach in analyzing the struggles among former slaves and masters attempting to determine the course of their societies after emancipation.

Invested in the success of the "great experiment" of slave emancipation, colonial officials developed new social welfare and health policies. Concerns about the health and size of ex-slave populations were expressed throughout the colonial world during this period. In the Caribbean, an emergent black middle class, rapidly increasing immigration, and new attitudes toward medicine and society were crucial factors. While hemispheric and diasporic trends influenced the new policies, De Barros shows that local physicians, philanthropists, midwives, and the impoverished mothers who were the targets of this official concern helped shape and implement efforts to ensure the health and reproduction of Caribbean populations in the decades before independence.

Excerpt

In 1893, in St. George Parish, Barbados, Catherine Barrow gave birth in a mule pen. a homeless woman without friends or family to house her, she stayed in this inhospitable setting for fourteen days. During this time, Barrow received visits from parish authorities and daily rations of rice and milk. As Barrow’s opinions were not recorded in the written sources, we can only surmise what she thought of these arrangements. But T. Law Gaskin, a physician and the temporary poor law inspector for Barbados in the early 1890s, did register his views, and they were decidedly mixed. Gaskin was not quite sure what to think. He believed simple compassion demanded that poor women like Barrow have safe places to give birth, and he used her case to push for the establishment of such facilities throughout Barbados. But he worried about the implications of this munificence and was reluctant to be seen rewarding these women for their “immoral” behavior. Finally, he fretted about Barbados’s reputation. Gaskin worried that Barrow’s story would be discovered by self-righteous Englishmen anxious to find some new moral cause with which to bludgeon Barbados’s planters.

Why did Catherine Barrow deliver her child in a stable, and why did colonial officials in British colonies like Barbados care? After the end of slavery in 1834, imperial politicians and philanthropists sitting in London and officials in Britain’s Caribbean colonies, as well as doctors, ministers, newspaper editors, and indeed much of the literate classes, were passionately interested in questions around sex and reproduction. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonial governments in Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana, the main focus of this book, devised new methods for counting births and deaths, crafted regulations governing midwives, trained and hired Afro– and Indo–West Indian women as midwives and health visitors, and built infant welfare clinics that were to be the locus of colonial reproduction policies. These were all part of an attempt to ensure the size and health of British Caribbean populations, one of the goals of the “great experiment” of slave emancipation. But these efforts . . .

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