36317 Topic: The Role, Welfare and Work or Enslaved Females
Number of Pages: 2 (Double Spaced)
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Type of document: Essay
Academic Level:High School
Language Style: English (U.S.)
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Before the Civil War, women seemed to be confined to life and duties within the household, women were given access to the world of work outside the house. These women were those who cleaned and cooked the day away while simultaneously caring for, raising, and instilling moral republican views in the children. One place where these roles were visibly strict was within the household. One article that’s focus is on women in the south, specifically Georgia taking on new roles in the household and as citizens to protect and provide for their families and in support of the confederacy. Women at this time were viewed as dainty and fragile beings who were not suited for strenuous manual labor. As far as the home and family were concerned men were absent in the home for the majority of the day working to provide for the wife and children. This meant that the responsibility of taking care of the home, meals, and children was the job of the woman of the house. Along with this being before the takeoff of industrialization and factory jobs this meant the majority of men worked on a farm where they would not work strict hours with much to do from sunrise until the end of the day. Was it real that women were more vital than men or was it the other way around and I am going explain why men are highly significant in the society before the civil war?
Often the wives of large plantation owners, these women already had the funds and items needed to sustain and run a household. As speculation of the war came about and men started enlisting in the forces, elite women desired for their husbands to join the movement by appealing to the men’s sense of manhood and dignity. With this in mind, it was relatively easy for these women to transition from pre-war life. Ready to take on the responsibility of the household. Although this may seem like a big task, the slaves did much of the dirty work. In actuality, these same women had a part in providing the spark that led to the men leaving for war itself. Women became the heads of the large plantations, farms, and businesses.
The first women created, had the power to “turn de world upside down”, then women as a group could transform their role in society to make themselves equal with men. The man brought in the income through hard work and he was the one to put food on the table for the family. Many women took to working tough jobs in factories or making clothing in addition to what they were already doing in the household to provide for their children. A woman’s typical role in society was to cook, take care of children, and was limited to only household duties. There was less harsh supervision on the plantations while the men were away, so it was their perfect time to run away and escape to the Union (Frank). Family separation was not new to slave women during the time period.
Women in families struggled adjusting to the new way of life because before the war, the man was one of the sole reasons as to why the family was able to survive. Women were limited to the “Cult of Domesticity”. Even though the African-American women couldn’t necessarily join the workforce, they still had a moment of liberation during the Civil War.
The lack of workers did not stop plantation owners from making the women pick up where the men left off. During the Civil War, their main concerns were keeping their family safe and minimizing racial discrimination. Slave women seemed to have to work twice as hard to keep up with the slack, doing not only their initial duties, but the men’s as well. Each woman was affected in different capacities depending on their class/status in society, but no matter what, they all experienced a drastic change in their role in society.
The slave women had the opportunity of a lifetime: to escape. Long, the stereotypical view of women being helpless sufferers of occupation during the Civil War is crushed and the reality of women wanting to help the war effort is revealed. Taking into account that women were not given the right to vote during the Civil War Era (1861-1865), they virtually had no power in society or politics. The war provided these women of with a time of new beginnings. Whites and Long help clarify that some women had to sacrifice just as much as the men did during the war. Truth was a powerful speaker and believed that there could eventually be a world where blacks and whites were equal in every aspect of life. In “Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War” by LeeAnn Whites and Alecia P. Because of the massive amount of men that were required for the war as soldiers, the women were forced to step in as supporters of the war and help protect their family. They might have showed their support for the war in a different way, but none the less, they cared for their country and did as much as society would allow. Many men who were slaves began fighting on the front lines, leaving their wives and children on the plantations to fend for themselves. One famous runaway slave, Sojourner Truth, supported the diminishing of racial inequality. In the grand scheme of things, white women were more respected than African Americans, but were considered inferior compared to white men.
The Civil War changed everything for the women who used to stay at home, especially in the South. Just when it seemed as though being a slave could not get any worse, came along and the tough, arduous life of being a slave woman became much harder. When the infamous Sherman’s March occurred, many slave women followed the Union soldiers back to the North. The Civil War effected the roles of all women, whether they were elite whites, poor whites, or African Americans. The significance of the females’ role in the Civil War is higher than one may think. With the war came the task of having to replace the source of reliability that was in place for poorer families. They held no power in the workforce and were expected to follow their husbands’ lead. Her mindset and influence reflected a lot of what other African-American women believed.
During their few hours of free time, most slaves performed their own personal work. The diet supplied by slaveholders was generally poor, and slaves often supplemented it by tending small plots of land or fishing. Many slave owners did not provide adequate clothing, and slave mothers often worked to clothe their families at night after long days of labor. In early childhood female slaves spent their time playing with other children and performing some light tasks.
Slave owners clothed both male and female slave children in smocks and assigned such duties as carrying water to the fields, babysitting, collecting wood, and sometimes light food preparation. As the children neared the age of ten, planters began making distinctions between the genders. At this time slave girls either were trained to do nonagricultural labor in domestic settings or joined their elders in the fields. Boys went to the fields or were trained for artisan positions, depending on the size of the plantation.
Early adolescence for female slaves was often difficult because of the threat of exploitation. For some young women, puberty marked the beginning of a lifetime of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from masters and mistresses, overseers, male slaves, and members of the planter family. For others, work in the planter’s home included close interaction with their owners, which often led to intimate relationships with white men or friendships with white women. House servants spent time tending to the needs of their plantation mistresses—dressing them, combing their hair, sewing their clothing or blankets, nursing their infants, and preparing their meals. They were on call twenty-four hours a day and spent a great deal of time on their feet.
Agricultural laborers served as the core of the workforce on both rice and cotton plantations. Since planters reserved artisan positions for male slaves, the majority of the field hands were female. Slave women constituted nearly 60 percent of the field workforce on coastal plantations. Commenting on the work of female slaves on his coastal estate, one planter noted that women usually picked more than men. Female slaves often were in the fields before five in the morning, and in the evening, they worked as late as nine in the summer and seven in the winter. They prepared fields, planted seeds, cleaned ditches, hoed, plowed, picked cotton, and cut and stalks. Slave women also cleaned, packaged, and prepared the crops for shipment.
Maintaining family stability was one of the greatest challenges for slaves in all regions. Some owners allowed slaves to court, marry, and live with one another. Other owners did not recognize marriage among slaves. The lack of legal sanction for such unions assured the right of owners to sell one spouse away from another or to separate children from their parents. Nothing lowered morale among slaves more than the uncertainty of family bonds. Whenever possible, black slave women manipulated their unique circumstances in the struggle for their personal dignity and that of their families. As often as black men, black women rebelled against the inhumanities of slave owners. Like their ancestors and counterparts in Africa, most slave women took their motherhood seriously. They put their responsibilities for their children before their own safety and freedom, provided for children not their own, and gave love even to those babies born from violence. For their experience and knowledge as caregivers, elderly women were among the most revered slaves on Southern plantations. For enslaved men, escape to freedom was the most promising avenue for preserving masculine identity and individual humanity. For the slave woman, faced with the double onus of being black and female and the added burden of dependent children, womanhood and personhood were easier gained within the slave community.
A master’s control over both spouses reduced the black male’s potential for dominance over his wife. Married slaves, whose union was not legally recognized, held no joint property in common. What is more, labor segregation by sex and the frequency with which male slaves were sold meant women were not only left to raise their children alone, but also to rely on female friends and relations above husbands.
The slave owner’s exploitation of the black woman’s sexuality was one of the most significant factors differentiating the experience of slavery for males and females. The white man’s claim to the slave body, male as well as female, was inherent in the concept of the slave trade and was tangibly realized perhaps nowhere more than on the auction block, where captive Africans were stripped of their clothing, oiled down, and poked and prodded by potential buyers. The erotic undertones of such scenes were particularly pronounced in the case of black women. Throughout the period of slavery in America, white society believed black women to be innately lustful beings. Because the ideal white woman was pure and, in the nineteenth century, modest to the degree of prudishness, the perception of the African woman as hyper-sexual made her both the object of white man’s abhorrence and his fantasy. Within the bounds of slavery, masters often felt it their right to engage in sexual activity with black women. Sometimes, female slaves acquiesced to advances hoping that such relationships would increase the chances that they or their children would be liberated by the master. Most of the time, however, slave owners took slaves by force.
For the most part, masters made young, single slaves the objects of their sexual pursuits. However, they did on occasion rape married women. The inability of the slave husband to protect his wife from such violation points to another fundamental aspect of the relationship between enslaved men and women. The paternalistic language of slavery, the restrictions of slave law, and the circumstances of slave life created a sense of parity between black wives and husbands.
For black men and women, slavery was an equally devastating experience. Both were torn from homeland and family. Both were forced to perform grueling labor, subjected to mental and physical degradation, and denied their most basic rights. Enslaved men and women were beaten mercilessly, separated from loved ones arbitrarily, and, regardless of sex, treated as property in the eyes of the law. Despite common factors, however, the circumstances of enslavement were different for black women and black men. The first slaves to be brought to the British colonies of North America were disproportionately male. Considered more valuable workers because of their strength, enslaved men performed labors that ranged from building houses to plowing fields. When the Dutch brought African and Creole women into New Amsterdam in the late 1620s, they did so not to supplement their workforce, but to provide company for their black male slaves.
Although most planters in colonial North America favored robust young men as slaves, the bulk of these were shipped to the West Indies, whose sugar crops dominated the international trade economy.
Early on, slave buyers in the colonies turned to purchasing female field hands, who were not only more readily available, but also cheaper? In fact, because skilled labor, such as carpentry and blacksmithing, was assigned only to male slaves, the pool of black men available for agricultural work was further reduced. As a result, female slaves eventually outnumbered men in field forces.
On small farms with few slaves, women were more likely to perform the same labor as men. Usually, however, especially on larger farms and plantations, fieldwork was divided along gender lines, with more physically demanding tasks assigned to male gangs. Men, for instance, might chop the wood for a fence, while women were put in charge of its construction. Men generally plowed the fields, while women hoed. Woman’s primary social role was that of mother. In slavery, this aspect of African womanhood was debased. Whereas childbirth in Africa was a rite of passage for women that earned them increased respect, within the American plantation system that developed by the mid-eighteenth century, it was an economic advantage for the master, who multiplied his labor force through slave pregnancy. The average enslaved woman at this time gave birth to her first child at nineteen years old, and thereafter, bore one child every two and a half years. This cycle, encouraged by the master, was not without benefits to the mother. While pregnant, she could usually expect more food and fewer working hours. Because proven fertility made her more valuable to her owner, she was also less likely to be sold away from friends and family.
Of course, the burdens, physical as well as psychological, that came with childbearing were enormous for enslaved women. Expected to put the needs of the master and his family before her own children, the slave mother on a large plantation returned to the fields soon after giving birth, leaving her child to be raised by others. On a smaller farm, the slave’s mothering responsibilities were simply added on top of her usual duties. For the love of their children, slave mothers often chose to stay in bondage, while their male counterparts attempted escape. The female slave was, moreover, faced with the prospect of being forced into sexual relationships for the purposes of reproduction. Perhaps more harrowing, she might be witness to her daughters suffering the same fate.
The lives of enslaved men and women were shaped by a confluence of material circumstances, geographic location, and the financial status and ideological stance of a given slaveholder. The experience of slavery was never a comfortable one. Nevertheless, the kind of labor assigned, the quantity and quality of food and clothing received, the type of shelter provided, and the form of punishments dealt could lessen or increase the level of discomfort slaves had to endure. These living conditions not only impacted the physical and psychological state of the slave, but also had effects on the relationships that African Americans built with each other and with whites in the age of slavery.
Carlson, P. H. (n.d.). Book Reviews. Journal of American History, 86(2), 824–825. Retrieved from
Essah, P. (2005). Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Alabama
Review, 58(3), 212–214. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=18236736&site=lrc-plus
Cordell, R. M. (2012). Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia. Library Journal, 137(12), 102. Retrieved from
Stevenson, B. E. (2007). The Question of the Slave Female Community and Culture in the American South:
Methodological and Ideological Approaches. Journal of African American History, 92(1), 74–95. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=25004090&site=lrc-plus
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