"Broken Reeds and Competent Farmers" explores the gendered work and self-representations of slaveholding widows in the southeastern United States during the early nineteenth century. Often associated with Margaret Mitchell's fabled character Scarlett O'Hara by nonacademics, these widows illuminate the flexibility of elite southern gender roles and undermine the region's reputation for maintaining unusually rigid and static forms of patriarchy. Throughout Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, slaveholding widows brought recognizably feminine attributes, like wifely obedience, maternal devotion, domesticity, and widows' weeds--the all-black costume of first mourning-- into the normatively male arenas of agricultural production and financial management. Doing so enabled widows to negotiate not only with slaves, overseers, and relatives, but also with complex and contradictory notions of the duties and the identities appropriate to women of their class and race. Neither "masters" nor "deputy husbands," slaveholding widows derived a range of powers--from authority to coercion --from their status as independent inferiors in the white man's world of household management.


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pp. 34-57
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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