She Could Spare One Ample Breast

‘[S]he could … spare one ample breast for the profit of her owner’: white mothers and enslaved wet nurses’ invisible labor in American slave markets

Stephanie Jones-Rogers
Assistant Professor, University of California at Berkeley

November 8, 2017
2203 Social Sciences and Humanities
Andrews Conference Room

This paper examines the market that white mothers created for enslaved wet nurses, the intimate labor that they performed in southern households, and the ways that this market intersected with slave marketplaces in the antebellum era. It argues that white mothers’ desires and demands for enslaved wet nurses transformed bondwomen’s ability to suckle into a largely invisible, yet skilled form of labor, and created a niche sector of the slave market. In these ways, white mothers were crucial to the commodification of enslaved women’s reproductive bodies, their breast milk, and the nutritive and maternal care they provided to white children.

Sponsored by the Women and Gender in the World DHI Research Cluster



Women’s Rights are Patients’ Rights

A Brown Bag Talk sponsored by Women and Gender in the World DHI Research Cluster.

In 1987, Angela Carder was twenty-seven years old, newly married, pregnant for the first time, and in remission from cancer. Twenty-five weeks into her pregnancy, her cancer returned. Her prognosis was terminal and her condition deteriorated rapidly. When administrators at George Washington University Medical Center learned that Carder had no plan to save her fetus, they went to court to determine their responsibility. A judge ordered an immediate cesarean section. The baby lived two hours; the mother died two days later. Carder’s story exemplifies a small, but significant trend in obstetrical practice in the 1980s, when hospitals and doctors used the courts to compel pregnant women to undergo cesarean sections in order to preserve the life and/or health of their fetuses. This article exposes and analyzes court ordered cesarean sections in the 1980s and reveals the key role that organized medicine played in ending the practice by defending pregnant women’s reproductive rights.

Women’s & Gender History

In the early 1990s, feminist scholars developed gender as an analytical tool for deconstructing relationships of power and sent a shock wave through the field of history. Some historians celebrated the prospect that gender history would replace women’s history with a more nuanced understanding of the interlocking historical categories of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. Others asserted that gender history would refocus attention away from women and back onto men.

In the 2000s, transnational and global history transformed the field again, challenging frameworks that had situated identities and institutions within national boundaries. The debates surrounding these new challenges are still in their formative stages and have lively iterations in other disciplines beyond history. It is therefore an ideal moment to collaborate on a new synthesis of gender and women’s lives in American history, integrating transnational and international contexts.

The Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History will consist of 31 chapters by leading scholars, each a synthetic and interpretive essay on a key part of American women’s and gender history. Our aim is to create an accessible volume that foregrounds the field’s dynamism and highlights key analytical tools developed in recent years, including gender, racial construction, sexuality, law, and transnationalism.


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