Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Gary Kornblith


Slaves, Plantation, Mistress, Women, America, South


This study examines the diaries, letters, and memoirs of twenty-six white plantation women in the American South during the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. I have utilized these materials to reconstruct the lifecycle of plantation women and to establish their perspectives on their lives. In particular, I have focused on their participation in the culturally encouraged progression from bellehood, a period of relative power and independence, to mistresshood. For these women the transition entailed a loss of freedom and the addition of numerous domestic and social duties. Despite these added responsibilities, these women embraced the role of plantation mistress. I have endeavored to explain why.

Within the historiography of nineteenth century southern women two opposing models exist for the lives of white plantation women. The first views these women as "the slave of slaves" l as Catherine Clinton believes, the second as "privileged members of a ruling class" as Elizabeth Fox-Genovese asserts. Clinton maintains that plantation women lived arduous lives, filled with demanding responsibilities of housework and slave management. Fox-Genovese describes these plantation women as resenting the burden of slave management and their husbands' affairs with slaves, but not as willing to relinquish the other privileges of their position.

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