Enslaved wetnurses in the antebellum United States

  • Start Date: March 4, 2015 at 5:00 pm
  • End Date: March 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm
  • Event Link: http://emilywest.eventbrite.co.uk
  • Location: A01, Highfield House, University Park
  • Ticket Price: 0.00

Enslaved wetnurses poster

The Department of American and Canadian Studies (ACS) present their Women’s History Month Lecture.

Emily West, University of Reading, will be in conversation with Dr Rachel Williams (ACS), to discuss ‘Enslaved wetnurses in the antebellum United States’.

Enslaved women feeding their own milk to white infants represents a unique point at which the exploitation of female slaves as workers and as reproducers intersects. Wetnursing is a variable phenomenon that exists across time and space where women live in unequal power relationships, including for example, pre-revolutionary France and early modern England. It also informs discussion of the meanings of motherhood for different groups of women. Few historians of the United States have explored the practice in any depth, although slave women’s wetnursing drew considerable attention in the postbellum era, when advocates of the ‘lost cause’ promoted a ‘mammy’ stereotype of enslaved womanhood which sometimes encompassed the role of wetnurse. This legacy fed into more recent interpretations of wetnursing that suggest the practice promoted cross-racial intimacies between black and white women.

This paper instead contextualises wetnursing firmly within a spectrum of women’s exploitation where white women used their power as slave owners to oppress women they held in bondage. It suggests wetnursing more widespread than historians have hitherto assumed, stresses white women’s use of wetnurses for reasons of convenience, and argues wetnursing sometimes had a detrimental influence on enslaved women’s health, and those of their own infant children.

Admission free, all welcome. To book, visit emilywest.eventbrite.co.uk

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