Mary Farmer-Kaiser

in Freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780823232116
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823234943 | DOI:

Series: Reconstructing America


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Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands—more commonly known as the Freedmen's Bureau—in March 1865. Upon its creation, the short-lived and unprecedented federal agency assumed the Herculean task of overseeing the transition from slavery to freedom in the immediate post-emancipation South. It became the embodiment of the triumphant North in a defeated South, and its agents the very face of federal authority. This bureau profoundly affected the lives of African-American women in the age of emancipation. Aside from applying the northern economic theory of free labor in a southern context, the bureau also worked to institute a social reconstruction based on northern middle-class notions of domesticity, dependency, and family relations. Whatever the intentions and actions of bureau officials stationed across the South, freedwomen—much like freedmen—encountered, trusted, and challenged the bureau and used it to their own ends. The bureau accomplished a great deal before being officially dismantled in 1872.

Keywords: Freedmen's Bureau; freedom; emancipation; slavery; social reconstruction; African-American women; free labor; freedwomen; domesticity

Chapter.  5959 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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