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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With varying degrees of success, African-American women encountered, trusted, challenged, and used the Freedmen's Bureau in their efforts to shape the outcome of emancipation. These interactions did not come without consequence. With defiant words and actions, the freedwomen who complained to federal authorities, in the words of a local bureau official in Virginia in 1866, committed that “unpardonable sin”. Although to this agent, their complaints only served to “widen the breach between whites and blacks”, to the women who made them, they were part of what would become a lengthy battle to define and defend freedom, womanhood, and a newfound citizenship for African Americans on their own terms. Indeed, the very act of making a complaint—whatever the complaint—to the Freedmen's Bureau was a courageous political act in the age of emancipation. The interaction between the Freedmen's Bureau and freedwomen reveals the many ways in which both northern gender ideology and freedwomen themselves acted to shape the political culture of Reconstruction.

Keywords: African-Americans; freedwomen; Freedmen's Bureau; emancipation; freedom; womanhood; citizenship; gender ideology; reconstruction

Chapter.  2120 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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