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Freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau

Race, Gender, and Public Policy in the Age of Emancipation

Mary Farmer-Kaiser

Publication Year: 2010

Established by Congress in early 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands-more commonly known as "the Freedmen's Bureau"-assumed the Herculean task of overseeing the transition from slavery to freedom in the post-Civil War South. Although it was called the Freedmen's Bureau, the agency profoundly affected African-American women. Yet despite voluminous scholarship on the Bureau, until now remarkably little has been written about the relationship between black women and this federal government agency. Neglected as well has been consideration of the role that mid-nineteenth-century understandings of gender and gender difference played in shaping the outcome of Bureau policy.As Mary Farmer-Kaiser clearly demonstrates in this revealing work, by failing to recognize freedwomen as active agents of change and overlooking the gendered assumptions at work in Bureau efforts, scholars have ultimately failed to understand fully the Bureau's relationships with freedwomen, freedmen, and black communities in this pivotal era of American history.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

When I began this project, I set out to learn as much as I possibly could about freedwomen’s interactions with the Freedmen’s Bureau. What I did not know then was just how much more I would learn about the generosity...

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pp. 1-13

Not long after the Civil War’s end, a ‘‘poor colored woman,’’ as Freedmen’s Bureau commissioner Major General Oliver Otis Howard would later remember the former slave, made her way to the offices of the War Department in Washington, D.C. Once there, she sought...

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1. ‘‘that the freed-women . . . may rise to the dignity and glory of true womanhood’’: The Men, Purpose, and Gendered Freedom of the Freedmen’s Bureau

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pp. 14-34

As part of a series of lectures entitled Plain Counsels for Freedmen, Brevet Major General Clinton Fisk, a veteran of the Civil War’s western theater and the first assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau to command operations in Kentucky and Tennessee, imparted these...

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2. ‘‘a weight of circumstances like millstones about their necks to drag and keep them down’’: Freedwomen, Federal Relief, and the Freedmen’s Bureau

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pp. 35-63

Reporting to the assistant commissioner in Virginia more than a year after the Civil War’s end, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, superintendent of the Freedmen’s Bureau at Fortress Monroe, attempted to convey the seriousness of the condition in which many...

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3. ‘‘The women are the controlling spirits’’: Freedwomen, Free Labor, and the Freedmen’s Bureau

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pp. 64-95

Reporting that the freedwomen in Houston County, Georgia, refused to work as they had in slavery, Freedmen’s Bureau agent J. D. Harris appealed for guidance from the state’s assistant commissioner during the summer...

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4. ‘‘to put forth almost superhuman efforts to regain their children’’: Freedwomen, Parental Rights, and the Freedmen’s Bureau

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pp. 96-140

Mothers, once fully assured that the power of slavery was gone, were known to put forth almost superhuman efforts to regain their children,’’ continued Brevet Brigadier General John Eaton, assistant commissioner for the District...

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5. ‘‘strict justice for every man, woman, and child’’: Gender, Justice, and the Freedmen’s Bureau

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pp. 141-166

Describing the state of affairs in Mississippi in the autumn of 1865, Assistant Commissioner Samuel Thomas expressed little hope that former slave women and men could ever obtain justice in his state. ‘‘Men, who are honorable in their dealings...

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Conclusion: ‘‘the unpardonable sin’’

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pp. 167-171

With varying degrees of success, African American women encountered, trusted, challenged, and used the Freedmen’s Bureau in their efforts to shape the outcome of emancipation. These interactions did not come without...


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pp. 173-238


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pp. 239-268


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pp. 269-275

Reconstructing America Series

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pp. 277-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780823249015
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823232116
Print-ISBN-10: 0823232115

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 712990680
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.
  • African American women -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • African American women -- Southern States -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) -- Social aspects.
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