Female slaves were seen as lusty temptresses who seduced white men, luring them away from the sanctity of their homes and wives, causing men to violate standards their society held sacred. Of course, the roles that Southern white males assigned to women of both races -- purity for the white woman, animal lust for the black -- served to assure male domination of both.
Neither was allowed to be fully human. Each was "only half of a self," yearning for the missing piece of identity assigned to women of the other race. Moreover, placing all blame on slave "temptresses" for interracial sex helped ease white men's consciences and explain away the contradictions of a society that trumpeted a chaste and soulless ideal of white womanhood.
It also had far-reaching consequences for the relationships between blacks and whites -- and blacks and blacks -- from then on. The image of sexual wantonness has haunted black women, shaping the way they've been treated by American society since slavery. Writer Willie Morris, for example, grew up in Mississippi in the s believing that white women didn't engage in sex for pleasure, that "only Negro women engaged in the act of love with white men just for fun, because they were the only ones with the animal desire to submit that way.
Likewise, white Southerners' attitudes toward sexuality, sexual predation, the South's devotion to the ideal of "pure white womanhood" -- all had profound repercussions on the region and the rest of the country during slavery, Reconstruction, and the century of rigid racial segregation that followed.
Yet these suspicions and rivalries, these attitudes and acts, were largely ignored in the popular press of the day and were long consigned to the shadows of history. Even today, they are seldom publicly discussed. Sex, nonetheless, has always been inextricably entwined with race and racism.
Above all, she hated the psychological havoc it played on women, black and white. From an early age, she rebelled against the treatment of both. As a girl, she taught her "little waiting-maid" to read and write: According to the law, white women were as subordinate in the North as they were in the South. Lacking legal rights, they were consigned to the home and family.
By the s, the "cult of true womanhood," encouraging domesticity, subservience, and piety in middle-class and upper-class white women, was firmly established in the North. In truth, though, Northern women had been tiptoeing away from the hearth since the beginning of the century, organizing charitable and temperance societies, missionary groups, literary clubs.
As these activities were largely sponsored by churches, they were considered perfectly respectable: Their main priority was to help others less fortunate -- sinners, the heathen, the poor. Few church leaders or, for that matter, husbands thought they would encourage women's independence. Free black women in the North were organizing, too, but with different goals. Unlike white women, most black women had to work outside the home, yet were still hemmed in by legal and social constraints. Theirs was not the "do-gooder" mentality of helping the unfortunate with whom they had little in common.
Their societies were more often aimed at mutual relief, designed to help themselves, their families, neighbors, and other blacks for whom poverty and discrimination were realities or ever-present threats.
Black women established schools and orphanages, founded settlement houses, aided their down-and-out sisters. They also organized literary and moral improvement societies, determined to prove that they were just as genteel, just as culture-loving, just as free from moral taint as any white woman. With antislavery sentiment swelling in New England in the early s, women, black and white, rushed to the abolitionist cause. Maria Stewart, a fiery young black abolitionist and former domestic, caused a furor in when she urged an audience of men and women at Boston's Franklin Hall to join the fight.
Church and civic leaders were so appalled at her audacity -- the very idea that a woman dare get up in public and make a speech!
Still, the walls had been breached. Women soon organized antislavery societies in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other cities throughout the Northeast.
Collecting money through fairs and other fund-raising events, they played a crucial role in financing the abolitionist movement. They inundated Congress and state legislatures with hundreds of thousands of signatures collected on antislavery petitions. With mounting confidence, they published magazines, wrote articles, spoke out at meetings, and organized conventions.
Along the way, they encountered increasing opposition from men, even from some of their own male allies in the abolitionist cause.
In a passionate retort, abolitionist writer Lydia Maria Child asserted: When Bonaparte told a French lady that he did not like to hear a woman talk politics, she replied, 'Sir, in a country where women are beheaded, it is very natural they should like to know the reason. My sisters, you have not only the right, but it is your solemn duty They formally declared that a woman had the right to carve out her own role in fighting slavery, independent of men, the right "to do all that she can by her voice, and her pen, and her purse, and the influence of her example, to overthrow the horrible system Men and women are created equal!
But when she assumes the place and tone of a man as a public reformer Only a small minority of Northerners actively supported the antislavery cause. Many in the North held views that were as racist as those held in the South. The notion that black and white women would meet together -- even stay in each other's homes! There was fury over the resolution against racism passed by the delegates to the convention, which stated that whites and blacks should treat each other "as though the color of the skin was of no more consequence than that of the hair or the eyes.
A mob hurled stones through the windows of a hall where black and white delegates were meeting, then blocked the doors and threatened the women as they left. That night, the hall was set ablaze. Unswayed, the women gathered the next morning to insist they would continue to sit together, eat together, and even have tea together in each other's parlors. In Boston and other Northern cities, unruly crowds heckled women abolitionists, sprayed them with ice water, threatened them with bodily harm, and sometimes roughed them up.
One Boston newspaper ridiculed that city's female antislavery society as a "parcel of silly women, whose fondness for notoriety has repeatedly led them into scenes of commotion and riots. Reporting on one such raid, an antiabolitionist newspaper described in horror how "a colored woman of great size who scrubbed floors for a living Harriet Tubman, herself a runaway slave, became a legend by leading more than three hundred slaves to freedom during nineteen trips to the South, boasting that she "never lost a single passenger" on her underground railway.
But she also sometimes used the pistol to encourage hesitant runaways. Black and white women provided stops along the way on the Railroad -- refuge in their homes for escaped slaves.
Among them was the mother of Laura Spelman, the future wife of John D. Another was the wife of the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Shortly after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in , making it a crime to harbor runaway slaves, the judge confronted his wife.
Twenty-four-year-old Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the daughter of a wealthy New York landowner whose abolitionist husband took her to the convention as part of their honeymoon, was so outraged that she promptly enlisted in the fight for women's rights. In , she and her close friend Susan B. The convention marked the beginning of the generations-long struggle for women's equality in this country. Before and during the Civil War, Stanton and Anthony regarded the antislavery cause to be inseparable from the fight for women's rights.
Anthony, in particular, was an ardent abolitionist.
She traveled nonstop throughout the North as an organizer for the American Antislavery Society, her uncompromising lectures often drawing hostile, catcalling crowds. With Stanton, she lobbied Congress and the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to free the slaves, and urged other white women to do the same.
When the Civil War broke out, Anthony and Stanton put aside the campaign for women's rights and focused exclusively on ending slavery. When the war was over and the Thirteenth Amendment a reality, however, Stanton and Anthony argued with more vehemence than ever that it was time for women to be allowed into the tent. Republicans, who dominated Congress, and male abolitionist leaders had other ideas.
The newly proposed Fourteenth Amendment, providing "equal protection of the laws" to all citizens thus, in effect, granting full citizenship to former slaves , included the word "male" as a qualification for voting. Anthony and Stanton urged congressional Republicans to omit the word, but were turned down. Arguing that "this hour belongs to the Negro," Republican leaders insisted that their party could not bear the political strain of trying to enfranchise women, white or black, along with black men.
The "hour of the Negro," in their view, did not extend to Negro women, let alone white women. But this was not so: The British confiscated the wood from Mr. Sarah pursued the British until she reached them, reportedly grabbing the oxen by the horns, turning them around and leading them away even as the British prepared to shoot her. War Time Spy Ladies.
Visit our Beautiful Books page and find lovely books for kids, photography lovers and more. Grand, bold and brilliantly written. It is a reminder of our proud legacy and a clarion call for who we can be. About Clare Wright Dr Clare Wright is an award-winning historian and author who has worked as an academic, political speechwriter, historical consultant and radio and television broadcaster.
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