Cover: Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, from Harvard University PressCover: Birthing a Slave in PAPERBACK

Birthing a Slave

Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South

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$27.00 • £23.95 • €24.95

ISBN 9780674034921

Publication Date: 03/30/2010


416 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches


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This remarkably researched and thorough book on pregnancy and childbirth among enslaved African-Americans demonstrates how the most personal and intimate aspects of slaves’ lives were fraught with politics and power. Schwartz, whose previous work Born in Bondage explored the lives of children under slavery, draws upon medical records, journals, letters, and WPA interviews to recreate a slave’s progression from conception to birth. Her access into this intimate world is stunning, and she provides rich, challenging accounts. She contends that planters and doctors used ‘biological science and learning to uphold power relations in the South,’ and indicts doctors for their complicity in white brutality on black women’s bodies. In turn, black women used resistance tactics that ranged from birth control to midwifery in a struggle for control over their bodies and children… The narratives Schwartz weaves create a vivid, highly detailed portrait of women’s lives under slavery, in turns that are both chilling (the casual brutality of slave-owners) and awe-inspiring (the strength and bravery of the enslaved).Publishers Weekly

This is a good book, well researched, and filled with useful information.—John S. Haller, American Historical Review

As Schwartz convincingly demonstrates, the history of reproductive health touches upon nearly every debate that has dominated slavery studies over the past seven decades: resistance and agency, hegemony, paternalism, family, culture, and religion. For its historiographical reach, analytical breadth, and archival depth, Birthing a Slave will be of great interest to scholars of African American history, southern history, women’s history, and the history of medicine. This book is impeccably researched and beautifully written. Schwartz has admirably tackled a sensitive subject with analytical grace and narrative skill. While it may not be the right book to savor over a morning coffee, Birthing a Slave is social history at its finest.—Hilary Moss, Common-Place

Outstanding primary source research supports Schwartz’s fine work. Moreover, the book’s creative organizational scheme traces the physical territory that medical practitioners and slaveowners tried to possess by separating the book into the bodily concerns that slave women faced over the course of their reproductive lives. Schwartz’s first-rate narrative, her exceptional primary source investigations, and unique format make Birthing a Slave an excellent contribution not only to the history of medicine but also to the history of American slavery… Schwartz’s text is likely to become a classic in the history of slavery and medicine. Specialists in the history of slavery, medicine, or gender will surely appreciate it. Finally, it would be a welcome addition to a course dedicated to the history of medicine, the history of women in medicine, or gender history.—Karol Kovalovich Weaver, Georgia Historical Quarterly

Birthing a Slave is exhaustively researched, engagingly written, and persuasively argued, and it skillfully blends social and medical history. The volume is a major contribution to the literature of slavery, and it will have a wide appeal and enrich the work of a variety of scholars, especially those interested in the South and slavery, health and medicine, and women.—James O. Breeden, Journal of American History

This study adds much to our understanding of obstetrical and gynecological practices on slave women and the complexities and impersonality of the master–slave relationship.—Steven Case, North Carolina Historical Review

An impressive blend of medical and social history exposing the vested interests of southern slave society in the reproductive health of African American bondwomen. Schwartz’s meticulous research illuminates health issues—such as cancer, infertility, and menstruation—that have received little to no attention elsewhere in scholarship on medicine and slavery.—Sharla Fett, author of Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations

A fascinating history of reproductive medicine in the antebellum southern slave system when black women struggled to control pregnancy and childbirth on their own terms. Schwartz clearly and convincingly reveals the role of laboring black women—both as workers and as reproducers of the enslaved work force—as central to the American slave system.—Jacqueline Jones, author of Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women Workers and the Family from Slavery to the Present

Compellingly argued and beautifully written, this book is a major contribution to women’s history, the study of slavery, and the history of gynecology and obstetrics. Rich and remarkably well-researched, Birthing a Slave shows how struggles over reproduction, sexuality, and mothering are central to an understanding of slavery.—Steven Mintz, author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood

Schwartz puts slave births in the medical and social context of the times while looking at childbearing through the eyes of physicians, slaveowners, overseers, and bondwomen. This ‘slavery and obstetrics’ book will be a valuable and most readable resource for scholars and students.—Todd L. Savitt, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University

Birthing a Slave gives us a ground-level view of medicine, gender, and doctor–patient relationships under the slave system in the U.S. South. Deeply researched and engagingly written, Schwartz’s book is sure to become not only an essential work in our understanding of health care in the antebellum South, but also of the wider society that framed the values defining health and sickness.—Steven M. Stowe, author of Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

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