Book Cover

In the Headlines

Reviews of They Were Her Property

Berkeley news: Unmasked: Many white women were Southern slave owners, too.

“In her new book, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, UC Berkeley associate professor of history, expands our understanding of American slavery and the 19th century slave market with an investigation into the role of white women in the slave economy. She found they were active participants, profited from it and were as brutal as men in their management techniques.” white women’s “investment” in slavery has shaped America today

“In the American South before the Civil War, white women couldn’t vote. They couldn’t hold office. When they married, their property technically belonged to their husbands.

But, as historian Stephanie Jones-Rogers notes, there was one thing they could do, just as white men could: They could buy, sell, and own enslaved people.”

the times literary supplement: Maternal violence: The gendered history of white supremacy

“The public face of white supremacy is decidedly male. Today’s headlines focus relentless attention on the men holding the flaming torches, the men who bomb synagogues, and the men leading the alt-right. It can be easy to overlook women’s allegiance to the same ideology. So much so that some observers are puzzled when white women turn out in significant numbers in elections to vote for racist and nativist political candidates.

But this kind of voting behaviour is no puzzle for historians. Those who have studied white women across time and place have documented a long history of their embrace (conscious or not) of racial privilege.”

the washington post: ‘They Were Her Property’: The brutal Southern belles who benefited from American slavery

“In her book “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South,” Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, associate professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, shatters the narrative that married white women were passive bystanders in the business of slavery.”

BLACK PERSPECTIVES: White Women Slave Owners, Economics, and the Law

“In a treatise published in 1681, Anglican clergyman Morgan Godwyn, who had ministered to parishes in Virginia and Barbados, recounted the public flogging of an enslaved woman. Godwyn disliked the naked display of cruelty, but he was even more distressed by the presence of an English “mistress” among the crowd. “To the shame of her sex,” he wrote, this white and likely slave-owning woman stood alongside the “men and boys.” She did not deign to blush as she gazed upon the bondswoman who was stripped to the waist and whipped repeatedly.1

Godwyn was shocked, but it probably did not strike the other onlookers as unusual. Certainly nothing about this scene would surprise Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers. They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South is superb in demonstrating that white slave-owning women were not exceptional. Indeed, they were as invested in slavery as their male counterparts and assumed central roles in buying, selling, and disciplining enslaved people in public as well as in domestic spaces.” The Massive, Overlooked Role of Female Slave Owners

“Most Americans know that George Washington owned enslaved people at his Mount Vernon home. But fewer probably know that it was his wife, Martha, who dramatically increased the enslaved population there. When they wed in 1759, George may have owned around 18 people. Martha, one of the richest women in Virginia, owned 84.”

the new york times: The Week in Books

New titles to watch for in March...

“A cogent and harrowing history about the ways in which white women profited from and passionately defended slavery.”

the washington post: White women’s long-overlooked complicity in the brutality of slaveholding

"Jones-Rogers has provided a brilliant, innovative analysis of American slavery, one that sets a new standard for scholarship on the subject."

the san francisco chronicle: Recommended reading, March 3

the new york times: White Women Were Avid Slaveowners, a New Book Shows

"The full role of white women in slavery has long been one of the 'slave trade's best-kept secrets.' They Were Her Property, a taut and cogent corrective...examines how historians have misunderstood and misrepresented white women as reluctant actors...They Were Her Property draws on the customary sources--letters and other documents from slave-owning families and the like--but radically centers the testimonies of formerly enslaved people in interviews conducted by the Federal Writers' Project, part of the Works Progress Administration. From these stories, Jones-Rogers brings an unseen world to life...Jones-Rogers is a crisp and focused writer. She trains her gaze on the history and rarely considers slavery's reverberations. They are felt on every page, however. It is impossible to read her on 'maternal violence'--the abuse of black mothers and babies during slavery--without thinking of black maternal mortality rates today. This scrupulous history makes a vital contribution to our understanding of our past and present."

the nation: The Mistress’s Tools: White women and the economy of slavery.

"Herein lies the greatest innovation of Jones-Rogers’s book—to show that the power white women wielded over enslaved people, reflected in horrific violence, extended into the economic structures of slavery. They engaged in brutal acts with the logic of the market in mind. Hers is the first book to isolate white women as economic actors in the slave system, and thus the first to dismantle another long-standing myth about these women—that they simply stood by as men conducted the business of slavery." “Equal Opportunity Evil”

A new history reveals that for female slaveholders, the business of human exploitation was just as profitable—and brutal—as it was for men.

the San francisco chronicle: “Co-conspirators: Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers’ new book on female slave owners”

the boston globe: “White women: from slave owners to Trump voters”

"Compelling...Jones-Rogers captures the echoes of what happens when America's greatest atrocity -- and who participated in it -- is deliberately misunderstood and unchallenged."-