Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

Article excerpt

Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South. Edited by Susanna Delfmo and Michèle Gillespie. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Pp. viii, 324. Introduction, tables, contributors, index. $55.00, cloth; $19.95, paper.)

The editors of this volume of thirteen essays maintain that while much scholarship has focused on plantation mistresses of the Old South and more recently on slave women, "we know too little about the lives of ordinary women in the Old South. We know even less about their working lives" (p. 1). They selected these essays to focus attention on the roles ordinary women played in both the developing market economy of the Old South and in social and cultural changes that occurred. The editors offer the volume as a starting point and note that, contrary to what some think, most women in the Old South worked; few actually enjoyed lives of leisure. The essays, inevitably touching on issues of class, race, and gender, look at the experiences of women who worked for pay as well as those who did not receive pay but whose work, nonetheless, contributed to their own economic well-being or to that of a larger group. They also consider areas of employment where women may have worked but for which sufficient documentation to make a full study is lacking. The authors consider a broad range of working women, including Native Americans, free blacks, slaves, and whites; rural and urban dwellers; prostitutes, nuns, textile workers, and basket weavers. Comments on three of the essays will illustrate the breadth of the volume.

Sarah H. Hill focuses on eastern Cherokee women and trade, noting that during the eighteenth century these women had considerable economic autonomy which was protected by matrilocal living arrangements, matrilineal inheritance, and other practices. These allowed women to participate "independently in nearly every kind of trade" (p. 34). Moreover, Cherokee women established trade networks that extended to the outposts of the European colonies, and they exchanged their products, such as woven baskets, along these routes. Although continued contact with European-American culture led to changes in Cherokee cultural institutions, loss of land, and reduced resources, Hill concludes that women's trade remained essential to Cherokee survival into the twentieth century.

Diane Batts Morrow examines the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a free black Roman Catholic sisterhood in Baltimore that organized during the first half of the nineteenth century. …

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