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They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,854 ratings  ·  388 reviews
A bold and searing investigation into the role of white women in the American slave economy

Bridging women’s history, the history of the South, and African American history, this book makes a bold argument about the role of white women in American slavery. Historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave-owning women were sophisticated e
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 19th 2019 by Yale University Press
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Rosalyn Guest hello, aside from some old fashioned legal terms and the slave narratives you shouldn't have a problem. The slave comments are often written to demons…morehello, aside from some old fashioned legal terms and the slave narratives you shouldn't have a problem. The slave comments are often written to demonstrate the way they would talk. that might give you the most trouble, otherwise its fine. (less)
femme fantasy freak Yes, absolutely the descendants of white women slave owners in the American South are living now today. The genealogy isn’t mapped out in this book or…moreYes, absolutely the descendants of white women slave owners in the American South are living now today. The genealogy isn’t mapped out in this book or anything, but yes the women did reproduce and their children did continue to build a long line of descendants.(less)

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I've just been asked, online, if I would recommend this book to a friend who is reading every book on race right now. I would only recommend the book to people who a) like text books and b) like reading the minutae of business litigation cases. Otherwise, the information's good but it is presented so dryly it's like week-old bread without benefit of butter.

Three times in two days in the shop people have picked up this book and I think I might have talked them out of it in the interests of hones
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is excellent. I did a little tweet storm so I'll just write that here:

This book is brilliant and necessary. The part about the “management” of the breast milk of slaves by mistresses was just devastating and also I just can’t believe it never occurred to me that it would be a commodity! childbirth, nursing--of course that was the realm of the white slaveowner. It's cutting edge and new scholarship like this is EXACTLY the reason we need more black women scholars! She dug through slave test
I Be Reading
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am the descendant of a group of enslaved people that were owned by a slaveowning woman in middle Tennessee.

This woman inherited my family from her first husband upon his death and then promptly got remarried to a man who was an active slave trader and who decided he was going to immediately start selling some of my family while taking the others to Mississippi to start a cotton plantation. The family of the late husband, who were also to inherit some of his estate, said “hell no” and took the
Emily May
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, nonfiction
Enslaved people also remembered slave-owning women giving their children human property, which contradicts historians’ claims that bequests and gifting of enslaved people were practices in which only slave-owning men engaged.

A horribly graphic but necessary read, especially for any Americans who still believe all white women were merely victims themselves during the slavery era. Nope-- as the author shows here, they were also very much responsible for owning, controlling and torturing enslav
Never Without a Book
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I can't find the words to put together a proper review for this book. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers absolutely blew my mind with her research. The testimony of formerly enslaved people, just wow! I am speechless. The information provided is not an easy one to digest, but I could not put this book down. This is a must read. ...more
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
“Some couples, for example, preferred one style of mastery for managing and disciplining their own slaves and another, perhaps more brutal, system to control those of their spouse. In other households slave-owning couples allocated discipline and management according to the enslaved person’s sex. ...Other couples... delegated management and discipline according to where the enslaved people labored — in the house versus the field, for example. The couple shared the responsibility of punishing the ...more
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating but flawed; I'm rounding up my rating.

This is important as an account of women as agents in the economics of slavery, as opposed to having mostly a social role as according to the theory of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. But it's history by anecdote; it's in serious need of data to support its claims. How many women were slaveowners? Was it common or exceptional? We don't know, and Jones-Rogers theorizes beyond what the weight of the evidence bears to the extent that her assertions become s
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebook
The innocent southern belle/matron who doesn't get their hands dirty with the ins and outs of slavery really got put to bed here with the use of all kinds of primary sources. I hadn't given much thought to why Southern white women were the backbone of the Lost Cause mythos until I read this book, but it makes sense that people who had a measure of financial independence and identity as slaveowners (via doweries, inheritances, etc.), who would then have all that vaporize upon emancipation, would ...more
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Extensively researched and quite powerful. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers presents here in vivid and unsparing detail how white women were not only complicit but in many ways leaders in slavery in America.

In writing these accounts, former slave-owning Women offered three primary reasons why they have supported the institution of slavery. First, as noted, it was a positive good for the African savages, whom slavery had civilized. Second, slavery was “God’s own plan” for helping these inferior people,
Randall Wallace
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In school, we were taught about white slaveholders and white overseers; this book shows that white women were also daily a visible part of slaveholding and slave trading, and not some anomaly. Stephanie shows us these women at the slave auctions, even selling slaves from the home, and beating slaves – white mistresses could be as sadistic as any white master. I remember worrying about southern women before the Civil War – white women could be raped by their husbands and had no rights back then s ...more
I think I saw this on one of my fellow Twitter mutual’s currently reading shelf and thought it seemed like an interesting part of history to get to know more about. I did have to wait a bit to get it from the library waitlist and it took me even longer to finish the book, but it was definitely worth it.

This book is written in a very dry manner, almost like an academic exercise citing sources and testimonials, lots of legal cases from the 19th century and how the law worked in those days. So, it
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
THEY WERE HER PROPERTY by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is one of the most impressive history texts I’ve read—the depth of research and innovative angle with which Jones-Rogers looked at this topic make for a truly insightful read. The narrative style and anecdotal approach to sharing her primary source material was engaging and allowed the scope of the research to shine.
As to the subject matter, this dismantles the notion that white women were passive bystanders and instead posits them centrally
Mtume Gant
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the toughest reads I have ever had. Not because it was written poorly, it’s written incredible detail and insight or because it was not engaging in any way - Jones-Rodgers paints a vivid powerful portrait of our history backed up by endless bits of facts that you can’t help but get lost in it. No the difficulty is she does her job so well in showing us how much more complex the institution of slavery was and how horrifying it was to Black people that after each chapter you can’t ...more
Sarah Schulman
Deep, crucial, vital, even handed, remarkable. Must read.
THIS BOOK RIGHT HERE, is why I love nonfiction!! I have nothing profound to say other than everyone and I mean EVERYONE should read #TheyWereHerProperty: White Women as Slaves Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers⁣⁣
I've seen many of you in the bookstagram world talk about this book and you were 110% correct. WOW, I was not ready!!! A journey of this nature, although painful at times, is necessary. This was an eye-opening account of white women and their active & brutal role
Maggie Duval
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing

No “moonlight and magnolias” here.

Should be required reading, and I highly recommend this book.

It’s a well researched, documented, and written book by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers that lays the case that, “Former slave-owning women’s deeper and more complex investments in slavery help explain why, in the years following the Civil War, they helped construct the South’s system of racial segregation, a system premised, as was slavery, upon white supremacy and black oppression. Understanding
Jul 03, 2019 rated it liked it
This one was a bit of a tough slog, mainly because it was repetitive. It could have been condensed quite a bit. You'd get a lot of anecdotes clearly showing the point the author was making, then paragraphs saying the same thing. One chapter (Wet nurses) could have easily been cut down to a section and added to the previous chapter. However, the book was well researched, the strength being in those anecdotes, actual stories that would take forever for you to find yourself if you were researching ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I only listened to about 50% of this before I had to return it but I learned so much about white women’s role in upholding slavery. Lots of mainstream history paints white women as docile beings who were at the whims of their husbands, perceived to be the more brutal and primary slaveowners. But this well-researched book proves otherwise. Effective use of historical documents and testimony from enslaved people. A must-read for anyone who wants an accurate understanding of white supremacy in the ...more
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for all Americans, but especially white women. It's a dense, college text read but there isn't a boring page. ...more
Renée | Book Girl Magic
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
musa b-n
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This took me a long time to read all the way through! I feel like going through academia has extremely harmed my ability to read research-y text without shutting down completely. But this book was especially validating given one of the last classes I took in school, about feminism in colonial studies. That class in particular was taught by a professor that was really insistent that white women were basically faultless under colonialism. She didn't say it in so many words, and when asked directly ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I am interested in this topic and REALLY wanted to love this book. There's no doubt that it's exhaustively researched and presents new and important information. However, it's not organized well, is unnecessarily repetitive, and why limit yourself to three illustrative anecdotes when seventeen would be so much better? I appreciate the work that went into it and the things I learned, but also found myself skimming large portions.
Feb 12, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers powerfully challenges the often-held belief that white women willingly gave their husbands charge of their property, including slaves. Drawing from slave narratives, court records, plantation records, and other sources, she demonstrates white women actively participated in slave management, often usurping their husband's authority when it came to slaves she owned prior to the marriage or their descendants. She shows the women's desire to keep their property at a ...more
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A culture based on slavery required "hyper-surveillance," and that meant that every white person was taught from childhood to behave in ways that upheld white power. Young white women were often given slaves by their parents. Wives and husbands cooperated in the management of their household slaves, and sometimes the wife could be the more brutal disciplinarian. Women generally coordinated the enslavement of "wet nurses" in particular, as a white woman had to assess whether she could, or decide ...more
Jherane Patmore
This should be mandatory reading and I would love if similar research can be done in the Caribbean!

I've been trying to write a review of this book for months now and everytime I say I will I end up re-reading a few chapters.

White women have managed to keep up the lie (on a technicality?) that they were unable to inherit property and this is foundation in American feminism, however there are lots of records of white women owning, trading, and inheriting enslaved people and this selective amnesi
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that really sits with you. It was two-fold powerful as an academic history analysis and as a big picture societal explanation. First, her use and depth of sources is amazing - the combination of interviews and legal documents and correspondence shows an incredible amount of research and the primary sources themselves play heavily throughout the book. The first-person narratives of formerly enslaved people combine with the written perspectives of slave owners in fascina ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2019
This was a very fascinating read about the involvement of white women in American slavery.

Slavery is often seen as something masculine, but this very well researched book shows that women were just as involved as men. They were owners, sellers and traders, who profited financially from slavery. And not just financially, their social status was higher too. To support subjugation of black people, white women were obviously placed in a position where men did not have the control over them that is
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an extensively researched account of the role women played in buying, selling, and often mistreating slaves. I was interested to learn that even though women had few, if any, legal rights, they could own slaves who would not become their husbands’ property upon their marriages. That said, it was also repetitious with the author making the same points over and over again. I don’t want to reduce the author’s work but I think I could sum it up in one statement: Women were complicit in perpe ...more
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Using interviews with formerly enslaved people, court documents, newspaper clippings and correspondence between the women who owned enslaved people, Jones-Rogers offers us a counter narrative to what we've been taught about chattel slavery. I appreciate and admire her diligence and commitment in filling in the gaps of history.
In one of her interviews, she explains how she practiced self-care while she researched this project and in that spirit, my self-care practice meant putting this book down
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
essential. historical analysis of how white women have upheld and benefited from white supremacy
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Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the winner of the 2013 Lerner-Scott Prize for best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women’s history.

Articles featuring this book

There are many ways to take action against racism. Reading in order to learn more about oppression and how to oppose it is just one of those...
1487 likes · 242 comments
“When we listen to what enslaved people had to say about white women and slave mastery, we find that they articulated quite clearly their belief that slave-owning women governed their slaves in the same ways that white men did; sometimes they were more effective at slave management or they used more brutal methods of discipline than their husbands did.” 0 likes
“For them, slavery was their freedom. They created freedom for themselves by actively engaging and investing in the economy of slavery and keeping African Americans in captivity.” 0 likes
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