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Born Southern

, 288 pages
January 2012



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Born Southern

Childbirth, Motherhood, and Social Networks in the Old South

In Born Southern, V. Lynn Kennedy addresses the pivotal roles of birth and motherhood in slaveholding families and communities in the Old South. She assesses the power structures of race, gender, and class—both in the household and in the public sphere—and how they functioned to construct a distinct antebellum southern society.

Kennedy’s unique approach links the experiences of black and white women, examining how childbirth and motherhood created strong ties to family, community, and region for both. She also moves beyond a simple exploration of birth as a physiological event, examining the social and cultural circumstances surrounding it: family and community support networks, the beliefs and practices of local midwives, and the roles of men as fathers and professionals.

The southern household—and the relationships among its members—is the focus of the first part of the book. Integrating the experiences of all women, black and white, rich and poor, free and enslaved, these narratives suggest the complexities of shared experiences that united women in a common purpose but also divided them according to status. The second part moves the discussion from the private household into the public sphere, exploring how southerners used birth and motherhood to negotiate public, professional, and political identities.

Kennedy’s systematic and thoughtful study distinguishes southern approaches to childbirth and motherhood from northern ones, showing how slavery and rural living contributed to a particularly southern experience.

V. Lynn Kennedy is an associate professor of history at the University of Lethbridge.

"A wonderful book about women (slaves and whites) who mixed daily routines in a plantation setting and shared some aspects unique to their gender—birthing, motherhood, and the OldSouth environment... A must read for those with interests in the Old South, gender, African American history, and women's studies... Essential."

" Born Southern is a useful addition to an admittedly sparse field; Kennedy joins scholars such as Sally McMillen and Marie Jenkes Schwartz in analyzing what birth meant to southern women."

" Born Southern is an important book that offers a fresh perspective of childbirth and maternity in the antebellum South; transcends the boundaries of social, cultural, legal, and political history; and highlights the value of close readings of sources."

"This treatment of antebellum southern maternity takes the issue beyond women's history and the often too tight frame of family and community history and places it at the center of southern power relations."

"Historians of the Old South, gender, and family will want to read this book. It could reform our assumptions about regional distinctiveness."

"Kennedy has written an insightful, scholarly social history of childbearing and motherhood, covering slave and elite white women in the antebellum and Civil War South. She unpacks the multiple meanings of motherhood for women who experienced it and for southerners who used it to defend and uphold a way of life."

"A thoroughly researched and thoughtful look at how communities of women in the Old South helped each other survive an experience few could avoid."

"Kennedy has surely uncovered a set of concepts that are key to understanding the antebellum Southern society."

"After reading Born Southern, anyone with an interest in the Old South and the Civil War will have a much stronger "understanding of what it meant to be 'born southern.'""

"A nuanced, balanced, multidirectional study of the pivotal event in many women's lives... Graceful and readable."

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