“that the freedwomen … may rise to the dignity and glory of true womanhood”

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

“that the freedwomen             … may rise to the dignity and glory of true womanhood”

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The realization of policy of the Freedmen's Bureau rested foremost on its officials at the local level. Using the gospel of free labor as the platform, bureau officials and agents across the South sought to convey to freedpeople not only the great rewards of free labor but also what they understood to be the rights, obligations, and values of freedom. Beyond applying the economic theory of free labor in a southern context, then, the bureau sought to initiate a social reconstruction that would transform southern slave society based on northern ideas of domesticity. Whether attempting to regulate federal relief, southern labor relations, apprenticeship laws and practices, or the administration of justice, the bureau endeavored to use the binary northern ideologies of free labor and domesticity to return former slaves to the workforce, to place freedmen at the head of black households, and to “teach” freedwomen to be the virtuous women, dutiful wives, and devoted mothers of true womanhood.

Keywords: Freedmen's Bureau; free labor; freedpeople; freedom; slaves; social reconstruction; domesticity; womanhood; freedwomen

Chapter.  10099 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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