Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South

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Harvard University Press, 2006 - History - 401 pages
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The deprivations and cruelty of slavery have overshadowed our understanding of the institution's most human dimension: birth. We often don't realize that after the United States stopped importing slaves in 1808, births were more important than ever; slavery and the southern way of life could continue only through babies born in bondage.

In the antebellum South, slaveholders' interest in slave women was matched by physicians struggling to assert their own professional authority over childbirth, and the two began to work together to increase the number of infants born in the slave quarter. In unprecedented ways, doctors tried to manage the health of enslaved women from puberty through the reproductive years, attempting to foster pregnancy, cure infertility, and resolve gynecological problems, including cancer.

Black women, however, proved an unruly force, distrustful of both the slaveholders and their doctors. With their own healing traditions, emphasizing the power of roots and herbs and the critical roles of family and community, enslaved women struggled to take charge of their own health in a system that did not respect their social circumstances, customs, or values. Birthing a Slave depicts the competing approaches to reproductive health that evolved on plantations, as both black women and white men sought to enhance the health of enslaved mothers--in very different ways and for entirely different reasons.

Birthing a Slave is the first book to focus exclusively on the health care of enslaved women, and it argues convincingly for the critical role of reproductive medicine in the slave system of antebellum America.

 

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Birthing a slave: motherhood and medicine in the antebellum South / Marie Jenkins Schwartz

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This remarkably researched and thorough book on pregnancy and childbirth among enslaved African-Americans demonstrates how the most personal and intimate aspects of slaves' lives were fraught with ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
Procreation
9
Healers
33
Fertility
67
Pregnancy
107
Childbirth
143
Postnatal Complications
187
Gynecological Surgery
227
Cancer and Other Tumors
257
Freedwomens Health
291
Notes
321
Index
391
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About the author (2006)

Marie Jenkins Schwartz is Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island .

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