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Single, White, Slave-Holding Women in the Nineteenth-Century American South

Marie S. Molloy

A broad and eloquent study on the relatively overlooked population of single women in the slaveholding South

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 nonmarriage, widowhood, separation, and divorce. These single women were not subject to the laws and customs of coverture, in which females were covered by 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 creative and nuanced life, operating within a tight framework of traditional gender conventions while managing subtle changes that worked to their 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 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.

Marie S. Molloy is a lecturer in American history at Manchester Metropolitan University and an honorary research fellow at Keele University in the United Kingdom. She earned her Ph.D. in American history at Keele University and is working on a book-length study of a select group of single women during the turbulent times of the American Civil War South.

“This beautifully written and extensively research book should become essential reading for anyone interested in the lives of white women in the U.S. South. It conveys how being single could occur for a number of reasons. Molloy’s detailed analysis explores the lives of some 300 single women who lived across the South in a variety of different contexts. She shows us, in a highly nuanced way, that nineteenth-century gender conventions both constrained women’s lives and yet also provided opportunities for achieving personal autonomy and economic independence.”—Emily West, University of Reading




6 x 9
240 pages
11 b&w illus.
ISBN 978-1-61117-870-8
Hardcover, $39.99s
ISBN 978-1-61117-871-5
Ebook, $39.99

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