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Freedwomen and the Freedmen's BureauRace, Gender, and Public Policy in the Age of Emancipation$
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Mary J. Farmer-Kaiser

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780823232116

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823232116.001.0001

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“the women are the controlling spirits”

“the women are the controlling spirits”

Freedwomen, Free Labor, the Freedme's Bureau

(p.64) 3 “the women are the controlling spirits”
Freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau

Mary Farmer-Kaiser

Fordham University Press

In their efforts to transform the South into a free labor society, officials of the Freedmen's Bureau encountered an employment landscape complicated greatly by issues of gender. Reconstruction-era policy makers believed that both African-American men and women should remain active participants in the southern workforce. Emancipation had ended the obligation to labor for neither black men nor black women. As a result, the bureau's official stance on labor—permeated with both an insistence that freedom required employment and a formal refusal to provide relief to persons physically able to work—called for freedmen and women to continue working in the fields and households of the South. Indeed, the agency's free labor experiment depended on it. A complex labor situation seemed ready to thwart such policies, however. Labor supply and labor demand seemed uneven across the South. Complicating matters further, bureau men encountered a determination among African Americans to decide for themselves how, when, and where they would work.

Keywords:   Freedmen's Bureau, free labor, African-Americans, gender, labor supply, labor demand, emancipation, employment

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