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In 1865, North Carolina law granted former masters preference in the apprenticeship of former slaves' children. Although mothers and fathers both endured the hardships of these losses, women's experiences diverged significantly from men's. Apprenticeship legal cases from 1865 to 1867 reveal that black women challenged two dominant ideologies, one that defined womanhood in terms of white female domesticity and another that reserved the status of independence for white men. They--sometimes successfully and sometimes not--manipulated social custom and legal doctrine to reconstruct the meaning of "free woman," defining black women as both women and free and independent citizens. To some African-American women, the term "free woman" applied to former slave women as well as white women, and it bore connotations of autonomy and independence.