In this first critical study of female abolitionists and
feminists in the freedmen's aid movement, Carol Faulkner describes
these women's radical view of former slaves and the nation's
responsibility to them. Moving beyond the image of the Yankee
schoolmarm, Women's Radical Reconstruction demonstrates
fully the complex and dynamic part played by Northern women in the
design, implementation, and administration of Reconstruction
policy. This absorbing account illustrates how these activists
approached women's rights, the treatment of freed slaves, and the
federal government's role in reorganizing Southern life.
Like Radical Republicans, black and white women studied here
advocated land reform, political and civil rights, and an activist
federal government. They worked closely with the military, the
Freedmen's Bureau, and Northern aid societies to provide food,
clothes, housing, education, and employment to former slaves. These
abolitionist-feminists embraced the Freedmen's Bureau, seeing it as
both a shield for freedpeople and a vehicle for women's rights. But
Faulkner rebuts historians who depict a community united by faith
in free labor ideology, describing a movement torn by internal
The author explores how gender conventions undermined women's
efforts, as military personnel and many male reformers saw female
reformers as encroaching on their territory, threatening their
vision of a wage labor economy, and impeding the economic
independence of former slaves. She notes the opportunities afforded
to some middle-class black women, while also acknowledging the
difficult ground they occupied between freed slaves and whites.
Through compelling individual examples, she traces how female
reformers found their commitment to gender solidarity across racial
lines tested in the face of disagreements regarding the benefits of
charity and the merits of paid employment.
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