Friday 15 July 2011

Research News: Becky Fraser on Nineteenth Century Gender ideals and their regional adaptation

The Sphere of Women, Godey’s Lady’s Book, March 1850
Becky Fraser charts in this recently published journal article for Slavery and Abolition the ways in which Sarah Hicks Williams, an elite white woman from New York state, adapted to the gender ideals of the South following her marriage to Benjamin F. Williams, a physician and slaveholder from Greene County, North Carolina, in 1853. 

Through the letters she wrote to her parents from the Williams' plantation, Clifton Grove, Sarah communicated her observations on the "peculiarities" of southern life including the manner in which they lived, North Carolina's lack of religious privilege, and of course, the institution of slavery, which in Sarah's opinion, was structured by relations of familiarity and intimacy between master and slave. The complexities of her transition toward the ideal southern plantation mistress were often fraught with difficulties not least because of her new mother-in-law, Avey, who part-owned Clifton Grove, and her sister's husband, James Brown, who was a committed abolitionist. Sarah struggled to make sense of the cultural landscapes of the South and the roles and responsibilities that were expected of her. Yet, by the late 1850s Sarah had successfully transformed herself into the ideal southern woman. Her life had proved complicated during these years as she underwent the adjustments necessary for her but eventually she succeeded in becoming a true southern woman living as wife, mother, and plantation mistress in the southern world. Enjoy!

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