Within the Plantation Household:
Black and White Women
of the Old South

by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Within the Plantation Household (The University of North Carolina Press)

The University of North Carolina Press (1988). 544pp. including index. 6.25 x 9.5 inches. Hardcover. ISBN-10: 0-8078-1808-9.

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From the Book Cover

About the Book

This important book challenges many current notions about antebellum souther women, white and black. Bound in a web of intimacy fraught with violence, the lives of slave women and slaveholding women were intertwined, but they were never linked in sisterhood. Although mistresses and slaves shared a common household, they were radically different from each other, and Within the Plantation Household documents the difficult class relations between slaveholding and slave women. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese argues that class and race as well as gender shape women's experiences and determine their very identities.

In this interdisciplinary study, which draws upon massive research in numerous archives and uses letters, diaries, memoirs, and oral histories, Fox-Genovese maintains that the lives of antebellum southern women, enslaved and free, also differend fundamentally from those of northern middle-class women. It is not possible to understand southern women's history of the antebellum period by applying dominant models of American women's history that have been derived mainly from New England sources. In the Old South, women lived within plantation households that were themselves the centers of production, and in these primarily rural households, where there was no separate woman's domestic sphere, men directly dominated their lives.


Fox-Genovese vividly shows us Southern women's everyday lives, artfully describing their sense of themselves, often using their own words. Although she acknowledges that slaveholding women expressed concern about the abuses of the slave system, she argues that their complaints rarely amounted to attacks on a system that guaranteed their privileged position and she maintains that the abolitionist women of the Old South were the slave women, not their mistresses. In developing this historical account of women's lives, Fox-Genovese offers the closest readings yet of slaveholding women's writings, and she makes the fullest use to date of the Works Progress Administration narratives for black women's history.

About the Author

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eleonore Raoul Professor of the Humanities professor history, and director of women's studies at Emory University, is author of The Origins of Physiocracy: Economic Revolution and Social Order in Eighteenth-Century France and coauthor of Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism.

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