“a weight of circumstances like millstones about their necks to drag and keep them down”

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

“a weight of circumstances             like millstones about their necks to drag and keep them down”

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In the immediate post-emancipation South, the Freedmen's Bureau limited its federal relief activities to temporarily aiding former slaves and loyal white refugees with rations of food, clothing, fuel, and medical care. In doing so, it operated in the short term and worked to avert an immediate need rather than what some reformers recognized already as a long-term crisis of extraordinary times. Official relief policy charged bureau men in the field with instructing freedmen and women in the importance of free labor, self-reliance, and independence and distributing material relief only to “prevent starvation or extreme want”. However, the appeals of freedwomen for federal relief often represented some of the most troubling cases for bureau men at the ground level of Reconstruction. Indeed, many, if not most, of the requests for bureau aid came from women who faced “a weight of circumstances”.

Keywords: Freedmen's Bureau; federal relief; freedwomen; reconstruction; slaves; rations; free labor; self-reliance

Chapter.  12511 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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