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Jones-Rogers challenges the idea that white women were passive bystanders to the slave economy in the US, instead demonstrating their active participation in its structures of brutality and exploitation. Please be aware that this review refers to acts of violence, including sexual violence.
Stephanie E. Yale University Press. When we talk about white supremacy in the United States, we often perceive a structure of masculine power. Discussing the planter class in The Half Has Never Been ToldEdward Baptist describes it as a macho culture, one that sought both economic and sexual domination.
This idea of white women as innocent and powerless has had baleful consequences. In Bring the War HomeKathleen Belew relates how white supremacists used the trope of innocent white womanhood to sway juries in the s; similar tropes have populated white-extremist propaganda. She focuses on the white women in the early Republic who actively held African Americans captive, who dictated their daily lives and who fully participated in the brutality and exploitation of slavery in the United States.
Jones-Rogers explores the life of the Southern woman slaveholder from birth to marriage and, to an extent, into death as well, examining their wills and estates. She describes in aching detail how Southern households reproduced slave society. Southern children of both genders grew up watching their parents exert mastery over Black people, and then mimicked these behaviours.
Formally, the common law did not recognise the right of married women to property, under the doctrine of coverture; a married couple had a single legal personality, which belonged to the husband.
Jones-Rogers acknowledges that coverture was often a real constraint for married white women However, she argues that Southern families often ignored or circumvented its strictures. Families could transfer property to daughters or other women relatives that would remain separate as a condition of the gift. In Louisiana, women could petition the courts for separate marital estates should their husbands demonstrate imprudent financial management The next question is how far each extended, cooperated and conflicted with each other.
Much of They Were Her Property examines the role of white women in the human trafficking of enslaved people.
In imagining white women as delicate and sheltered, some historians have claimed that they did not attend slave auctions or markets and had little role in the commerce in human bodies. Women also bought and sold human beings from their own homes, often within local social networks or from itinerant traders. Some did business as slave traders, or fronted capital to men who did so, like Mathilda Bushey This allowed white mothers the freedom to pursue social lives or compensated for a physical inability to breastfeed their children.
White women were also fully implicated in the physical and sexual brutality of US slavery. The book describes mistresses so violent that their husbands had to restrain them Masters also used rape to ensure a supply of women to serve as wet nurses Some white women ran brothels staffed by enslaved people One of the most chilling single stories involves Rose Russell, whose mistress asked which parent she loved the most.
She said her father, and the mistress promptly sold her mother A few white women petitioned President Andrew Johnson for pardons, citing their losses in human property as a way of gaining sympathy Johnson was White sex slave for lonely woman woman racist. Ironically, this is exactly what the Projectlaunched under the aegis of The New York Times, seeks to do, though for precisely the opposite reasons.
She often turns the narration over to the interviewees, incorporating their reminiscences into the text and structuring sentences to identify them first. Jones-Rogers also describes how enslaved people attempted to navigate the world of slavery themselves, learning about market conditions, property laws and demands for skills in a bid to win freedom.
Some tried to buy their own freedom, which was difficult since enslaved people could not legally make binding contracts She was successful The book is compellingly written and rich with anecdotes, though sometimes Jones-Rogers neglects to tell readers exactly where or when a particular event occurred. They Were Her Property is a primarily qualitative text; we are not presented with figures on the of women slave-owners, the proportion of slave-owners who were women or the proportion of married women who had separate title.
It also reminds us that even today, the intersection of race and gender can reproduce the oppression of women by women. Photograph courtesy of White sex slave for lonely woman woman York Public Library, no known copyright restrictions. Ben Margulies is a lecturer in political science at the University of Brighton. He was ly a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Warwick. He specialises in European, comparative and party politics. Search for:. Dr Ben Margulies January 19th, Jones-Rogers 0 comments 10 shares Estimated reading time: 10 minutes.
About the author Dr Ben Margulies.
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Book Review: They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers