The Enclosed Garden: Women and Community in the Evangelical South, 1830-1900

The Enclosed Garden: Women and Community in the Evangelical South, 1830-1900

The Enclosed Garden: Women and Community in the Evangelical South, 1830-1900

The Enclosed Garden: Women and Community in the Evangelical South, 1830-1900

Synopsis

The southern women's reform movement emerged late in the nineteenth century, several decades behind the formation of the northern feminist movement. The Enclosed Garden explains this delay by examining the subtle and complex roots of women's identity to disclose the structures that defined -- and limited -- female autonomy in the South.

Jean Friedman demonstrates how the evangelical communities, a church-directed, kin-dominated society, linked plantation, farm, and town in the predominantly rural South. Family networks and the rural church were the princple influences on social relationships defining sexual, domestic, marital, and work roles. Friedman argues that the church and family, more than the institution of slavery, inhibited the formation of an antebellum feminist movement. The Civil War had little effect on the role of southern women because the family system regrouped and returned to the traditional social structure. Only with the onset of modernization in the late nineteenth century did conditions allow for the beginnings of feminist reform, and it began as an urban movement that did not challenge the family system.

Friedman arrives at a new understanding of the evolution of Victorian southern women's identity by comparing the experiences of black women and white women as revealed in church records, personal letters, and slave narratives. Through a unique use of dream analysis, Friedman also shows that the dreams women described in their diaries reveal their struggle to resolve internal conflicts about their families and the church community. This original study provides a new perspective on nineteenth-century southern social structure, its consequences for women's identity and role, and the ways in which the rural evangelical kinship system resisted change.

Excerpt

The Enclosed Garden is the author's search to understand the relationship between the nineteenth-century social structure and the lived experience of southern women. Intrigued by the excellent studies of antebellum northern women by Nancy Cott, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, and Barbara Berg which suggest that modernization and its attendant sexual segregation prompted women to form independent women's networks that ultimately challenged the patriarchy, I used them as a point of departure. Those studies formulated the basic question of my own study, namely, why did the southern women's reform movement emerge only gradually in the late nineteenth century?

The early stages of my research led me to see the importance of community as a powerful factor in integrating southern women's identity and in preserving their traditional role. the structure of the evangelical community then became the object of study. But it was the point of intersection between community structure and women's psyche that compelled my interest. Gradually it became clear that only a multimethodological approach, one using anthropology, sociology, literary analysis, and psychology, as well as traditional historical methods, would be able to penetrate the layers of reality that have hidden southern women's historic identity. the result was a study of community and its effect on the role and identity of black and white women. But this means that no immediate answer to the original comparative question is at hand because this kind of multidimensional analysis for women of other regions is not presently available. the author hopes this study will challenge historians of women to analyze the problem of community structure and women's psychic response in order to make a comparative work possible.

Writers and scholars are paupers, dependent upon their friends and colleagues for advice and criticism. This list of acknowledgments attests to my own poverty. I am most indebted to Lester D. Stephens, department head, who generously gave his time to edit and criticize the raw first drafts. His patience, tact, and wisdom helped sort out the relevant and irrelevant, the worthy and unworthy. Paul C. Nagel, who believed in supporting the scholarship of the junior faculty, listened intently to my research plans and encouraged me by making available departmental grants. Lester Stephens did the same. in addition the University Patent Fund underwrote part of this research.

Tania Modleski, with enduring good humor and tough-mindedness, edited the later drafts, challenging and criticizing ideas and language. Very simply . . .

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