Abstract

Abstract:

In this essay, I examine Harriet Jacobs's intervention in antebellum debates about African American's capacity to "take care of themselves" by recovering her expertise in domestic health science–what Jacobs called "the science of good management" – in and beyond Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). I argue that throughout her narrative as well as in her private and public correspondence, Jacobs transforms caregiving into a strain of what Britt Rusert terms "fugitive science." Jacobs, who performed care labor while enslaved, also worked as a nurse for the Willis family while writing Incidents and then provided aid to formerly enslaved refugees in Civil War "contraband camps." Across her writings, she suggests that if African American women were expected to bolster the health of white charges, then that expertise could be harnessed in service of Black well-being. While historians have documented how enslaved women were often treated as instruments rather than agents of medical knowledge, attending to caregiving highlights an alternative, fugitive legacy of enslaved women and health science in the United States.

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