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


The Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History boldly interprets the history of diverse women and how ideas about gender shaped their access to political and cultural power in North America over six centuries.

In 29 chapters, the Handbook showcases women’s and gender history as an integrated field with its own interpretation of the past, focused on how gender influenced people’s lives as they participated in migration, colonialism, trade, warfare, artistic production, and community-building.  Organized chronologically and thematically, the Handbook’s six sections allow readers to consider historical continuities of gendered power as well as individual innovations and ruptures in gender systems. Theoretically cutting edge, each chapter bursts with fascinating historical characters, from young Chicanas transforming urban culture, to free women of color forging abolitionist doctrines, to Asian migrant women defending the legitimacy of their marriages, to working-class activists mobilizing international movements, to transwomen fleeing incarceration.  Together, their lives constitute the history of a continent.

Leading scholars from multiple generations demonstrate the power of innovative research to excavate a history hidden in plain sight.  Scrutinizing silences in the historical record, from the inattention to enslaved women’s opinions to the suppression of Indian women’s involvement in border diplomacy, the authors challenge the nature of historical evidence and remap what counts in our interpretation of the past. They demonstrate a way to extend this more capacious vision of history forward, setting an intellectual agenda informed by intersectionality and transnationalism, and new understandings of sexuality.

Together and separately, these essays offer readers a deep understanding of the variety and centrality of women’s lives to all dimensions of the American past, even as they show that the boundaries of “women,” “American,” and “history” have shifted across the centuries