Women of the Antebellum South
“The Slave Institution in the South increases the tendency to dignify the family. Each planter is in fact a patriarch—his position compels him to be a ruler in his household. From early youth, his children and servants look up to him as the head, and obedience and subordination become important elements of education . . . . Domestic relations become those which are most prized.”
Lecture before the Young Men’s Library Association of Augusta, Ga
Referring to the Plantation Mistress:
“So long as she is nervous, fickle, capricious, delicate, diffident and dependent, man will worship and adore her. Her weakness is her strength, and her true art is to cultivate and improve that weakness. Woman naturally shrinks from the public gaze, and from the struggle and competition of life. . . . In truth, woman, like children, has but one right and that is the right to protection. The right to protection involves the obligation to obey. A husband, a lord and master, who she should love, honor and obey, nature designed for every woman. If she be obedient, she stands little danger of maltreatment.”
Sociology for the South, 1854
“The cares she met with such serenity had been too heavy for her strength; they had driven the bloom from her cheeks and the luster from her eyes; and though she had not faltered at her task, she had drooped daily and grown older than her years. The master might live with lavish disregard of the morrow, not the master’s wife. For him were the open house, the shining table, the well-stocked wine cellar and the morning rides over the dewy fields; for her the care of the home and children, and of the souls and bodies of the black people that had been given into her hands.”
Barren Ground, 1902
“These women have less chance to live their own lives than if they were African missionaries. They have a swarm of blacks around them like children under their care. . . and they hate slavery worse than Mrs. Stowe does.”
Diary from Dixie
Portrait of Mrs. Shelby, plantation Mistress:
Mrs. Shelby was a woman of high class, both intellectually and morally. To that natural magnanimity and generosity of mind which on often marks as characteristic of the women of Kentucky, she added high moral and religious sensibility and principle, carried out with great energy and ability into practical results. Her husband, who made no professions to any particular religious character, nevertheless reverenced and respected the consistency of hers, and stood, perhaps, a little in awe of her opinion. Certain it was that he gave her unlimited scope in all her benevolent efforts for the comfort, instruction and improvement of her servants, though he never took part in any of them himself.
Portrait of Topsy, the childlike, irresponsible female slave:
She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth, half open in astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas’r’s parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her wooly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression on her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance . . .
Portrait of Aunt Chloe, the mammy:
A round, black, shining face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the idea that she might have been washed over with white of eggs, like one of her own tea rusks. Her whole plump countenance beams with satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched checked turban . . .
from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852