Single White Slaveholding Women in the Nineteenth-Century American South
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Single, White, Slaveholding Women in the Nineteenth-Century American South investigates the lives of unmarried white women—from the pre– to the post–Civil War South—within a society that placed high value on women’s marriage and motherhood. Marie S. Molloy examines female singleness to incorporate non-marriage, widowhood, separation, and divorce. These single women were not subject to the laws and customs of coverture, in which females were covered or subject to the governance of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and therefore lived with greater autonomy than married women.
Molloy contends that the Civil War proved a catalyst for accelerating personal, social, economic, and legal changes for these women. Being a single woman during this time often meant living a nuanced life, operating within a tight framework of traditional gender conventions while manipulating them to greater advantage. Singleness was often a route to autonomy and independence that over time expanded and reshaped traditional ideals of southern womanhood.
Molloy delves into these themes and their effects through the lens of the various facets of the female life: femininity, family, work, friendship, law, and property. By examining letters and diaries of more than three hundred white, native-born, southern women, Molloy creates a broad and eloquent study on the relatively overlooked population of single women in both the urban and plantation slaveholding South. She concludes that these women were, in various ways, pioneers and participants of a slow, but definite process of change in the antebellum era.