Bonds of Womanhood
Slavery and the Decline of a Kentucky Plantation
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Class, race, and gender collide in this insightful examination of the life of Susanna (Susan) Preston Shelby Grigsby (1830–1890)—a white plantation mistress and slaveholder who struggled to participate in the economic modernization of antebellum Kentucky. Drawing on Grigsby's correspondence, author Susanna Delfino uses Grigsby's story to explore the complex cultural and social issues at play in the state's economy before, during, and after the Civil War.
Delfino demonstrates that Grigsby engaged in certain kinds of abolitionist activism, such as hiring white servants as a way of conveying her support for free labor and avoiding ever selling an enslaved person. Despite her beliefs, however, Grigsby failed to hold to her moral compass when faced with her husband's patriarchal authority or when she experienced serious economic trouble. This compelling study not only illuminates how white women participated in the South's nineteenth-century economy, but also offers new perspectives on their complicity in slavery.
Kentucky: The Promise of America's Future
Looking 'Backward' to the Future
The Bitter-Sweet Taste of Progress
Bonds of Womanhood
The World Turned Upside Down
Bonds of Womanhood solidifies Susanna Delfino's position as one of our most respected historians of the American South, the southern middle class, and gender. Specifically, she reveals the struggle between those who wished to modernize the region and those who fought against economic and cultural change. With deftness and sensitivity, Delfino highlights the life of Susan Grigsby and several Kentucky families to underscore the local nature of wider regional battles over slavery, industrialization, and women's work. This is a significant book on an important subject.~Jonathan Daniel Wells, Professor of History at the University of Michigan
Susanna Delfino's biography of Susanna Preston Shelby Grigsby is deeply researched and profoundly humane. Delfino recovers the complex, moving life of Grigsby to reveal a woman's perspective on—and endurance in—the transformations Kentuckians faced in the decades surrounding the Civil War. The boundaries Grigsby navigated—modernity and tradition, deference and defiance, slave mastery and free labor markets, Confederate and Union—are rooted in nineteenth-century Kentucky. But the larger struggle Delfino reveals, of a woman's quest to honor her family's past while seeking her own future, is transcendent.~Lorri Glover, author of Eliza Lucas Pinckney: An Independent Woman in the Age of Revolution
One of the leading European historians of US history, Susanna Delfino, has written an extraordinary portrait of Susan Grigsby of Kentucky, whose life story the author masterfully transforms into a fascinating history of women's experience in the American South.~Don H. Doyle, McCausland Professor of History, emeritus, University of South Carolina, and author of The Cause of All Nations and Faulkner's County
Susanna Delfino expertly contextualizes the complex experiences and mindset of a white slaveholding plantation mistress in Kentucky to show how working women across class and race, before, during and after slavery, grappled with the emergence of industrialization and their own changing identities. In doing so she provides us with a fresh, innovative, much needed approach to engendering the history of capitalism.~Michele Gillespie, Presidential Endowed Chair of Southern History at Wake Forest University and author of Katharine and R.J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South
Susanna Delfino's deeply researched biography of Susan Grigsby offers insight into the ordinary experiences of a slave-holding household at an extraordinary moment. Such a close-up view of antebellum rural domesticity—including a companionate (if troubled) marriage and self-inflicted struggles with domestic workers—is rare. Though situated within a place and time undergoing rapid economic and social change, Grigsby's tale reveals how continued patriarchal strictures limited privileged women's autonomy and had even direr consequences for the enslaved women in their care.~Stephanie Cole, coeditor of Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives