Chapter

“the women are the controlling spirits”

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fso/9780823232116.003.0004

Series: Reconstructing America

“the women are the             controlling spirits”

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In their efforts to transform the South into a free labor society, officials of the Freedmen's Bureau encountered an employment landscape complicated greatly by issues of gender. Reconstruction-era policy makers believed that both African-American men and women should remain active participants in the southern workforce. Emancipation had ended the obligation to labor for neither black men nor black women. As a result, the bureau's official stance on labor—permeated with both an insistence that freedom required employment and a formal refusal to provide relief to persons physically able to work—called for freedmen and women to continue working in the fields and households of the South. Indeed, the agency's free labor experiment depended on it. A complex labor situation seemed ready to thwart such policies, however. Labor supply and labor demand seemed uneven across the South. Complicating matters further, bureau men encountered a determination among African Americans to decide for themselves how, when, and where they would work.

Keywords: Freedmen's Bureau; free labor; African-Americans; gender; labor supply; labor demand; emancipation; employment

Chapter.  15109 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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