Paternalism in A Southern City: Race, Religion, and Gender in Augusta, Georgia

By Vecchio, Diane C. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Paternalism in A Southern City: Race, Religion, and Gender in Augusta, Georgia


Vecchio, Diane C., South Carolina Historical Magazine


Paternalism In A Southern City: Race, Religion, and Gender in Augusta, Georgia. Edited by Edward J. Cashin and Glenn T. Eskew. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. Pp. xiii, 233; $50.00, cloth.)

This collection of seven essays, the result of a symposium held at Augusta State University in 1996, examines Augustan life through the lens of race, class and gender. Not surprisingly, the scholars contributing to this study identify paternalism as a pervasive theme in Augusta's history.

Paternalism, as a framework for interpreting relations between masters and slaves and mill owners and workers, has been employed by several historians, most notably, Eugene Genovese in Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974) and Melton McLauren in Paternalism and Protest: Southern Cotton Mill Workers and Organized Labor, 1875-1905 (1971). The essays in this volume discuss the complex issues of paternalism by examining how blacks, women and mill workers negotiated their own needs within a paternalistic system. The subordinating effects of paternalism defined the relationships between free black and white; husbands and wives, elites and the masses, and was often an underlying theme in worker protest, religion and family life.

In his introductory essay, Edward Cashin lays the foundation for understanding Augustun life by examining the many ways in which paternalism played an important role in defining Georgia, from its earliest days as a colony rescuing debtors, to the establishment of a plantation elite following the American Revolution. During the 1840s and 50s, Augusta began to resemble the North with its commercial growth and factories. As Augusta's leading citizens invested in steamships, banks, railroads and factories, their appeal for industrial development was couched in the language of paternalism as stated by entrepreneur Henry H. Cumming: "Forget your plantation South and save your city. You are not father figures on an American manor, but you can be father figures for the urban poor" (p. 21). With a factory workforce composed largely of women and children, paternalism co-existed comfortably with the entrepreneurial spirit that flourished in Augusta after the Civil War as the city's industrial growth earned it the title of the "Lowell of the South."

The role of paternalism in gender relations is a theme explored in essays by Michelle Gillespie and LeeAnn Whites. In the years following the American Revolution, paternalism supported and reinforced women's subordinate status in Southern society, a status that was defined as much by class and race as gender. Yet, according to Gillespie, some women in Augusta found opportunities for authority and independence-white women through household consumption and in their work in family businesses-slave women through economic networks where they bartered and traded goods and produce. Some slave women in Augusta even entered into "paid sexual liaisons with young white men . …

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