Birthing a Slave
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Birthing a Slave

Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South

Marie Jenkins Schwartz

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eBook - PDF

Birthing a Slave

Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South

Marie Jenkins Schwartz

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About This Book

The deprivations and cruelty of slavery have overshadowed our understanding of the institution's most human dimension: birth. We often don't realize that after the United States stopped importing slaves in 1808, births were more important than ever; slavery and the southern way of life could continue only through babies born in bondage.In the antebellum South, slaveholders' interest in slave women was matched by physicians struggling to assert their own professional authority over childbirth, and the two began to work together to increase the number of infants born in the slave quarter. In unprecedented ways, doctors tried to manage the health of enslaved women from puberty through the reproductive years, attempting to foster pregnancy, cure infertility, and resolve gynecological problems, including cancer.Black women, however, proved an unruly force, distrustful of both the slaveholders and their doctors. With their own healing traditions, emphasizing the power of roots and herbs and the critical roles of family and community, enslaved women struggled to take charge of their own health in a system that did not respect their social circumstances, customs, or values. Birthing a Slave depicts the competing approaches to reproductive health that evolved on plantations, as both black women and white men sought to enhance the health of enslaved mothers--in very different ways and for entirely different reasons. Birthing a Slave is the first book to focus exclusively on the health care of enslaved women, and it argues convincingly for the critical role of reproductive medicine in the slave system of antebellum America.

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Information

Year
2010
ISBN
9780674257993
sick 
care 
in 
an 
effort 
to 
improve 
both 
production 
and 
reproduction.
As 
with 
their 
provision 
of 
food 
and 
clothing,
planters 
cited 
their
oversight 
of 
sick 
care 
as 
evidence 
of 
their 
compassion.
36
They 
gradu-
ally 
extended 
this 
concern 
to 
women’s 
reproductive 
health.
From 
the
standpoint 
of 
enslaved 
women,
the 
slave 
owner’s 
foray 
into 
the 
sci-
entiÔ¨Āc¬†
management 
of 
their 
bodies 
represented 
something 
beyond
benevolence.
It 
was 
an 
effort 
to 
decrease 
the 
importance 
of 
women’s
community 
and 
to 
substitute 
the 
ways 
of 
white 
men 
for 
those 
of
black 
women.
The 
women 
struggled 
to 
assert 
their 
own 
customs.
Rather 
than 
acquiescing 
in 
slaveholders’
demands 
that 
they 
bear 
as
many 
children 
as 
possible,
enslaved 
women 
attempted 
to 
regulate
childbearing 
to 
accord 
with 
their 
own 
notions 
of 
the 
proper 
timing
and 
frequency 
of 
motherhood.
In 
resisting 
the 
dominion 
of 
white
men 
in 
this 
regard,
black 
women 
cast 
themselves 
as 
central 
actors 
in
the 
unfolding 
drama 
that 
constituted 
slave 
life 
and 
culture 
in 
the 
an-
tebellum 
South.
Procreation
31

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