Articles Available Online

Diversity Resource Materials for Public School Teachers

Lectures & Presentations

Digital Archive: Slavery & Emancipation in the Mountain South

Digital Archive:  Women, Work & Family in Antebellum Appalachia

The World-System in the 21st Century: 25th Annual Political Economy of the World-System Conference

Contact the Author














Wilma A. Dunaway  


 Critical Sociology 21 (3) (Fall 1995): 89-106

Figures and Tables are not provided.

This Article Is Copyrighted: When citing this article, be sure to cite the journal in which it is published, not this website.


The conventional wisdom is that land-owning, independent households constituted the dominant units of production throughout the antebellum United States, ranging in complexity from small family farms to large plantations. Southern women have been portrayed as elites while the region's poor small-holding and landless women are absent from the literature. I argue that conceptualizations of the "separate household-based sphere" of women's work are inadequate to explain the "disremembered" lives of antebellum Southern Appalachian women. Even though much of their labor was socially-invisible, these semiproletarianized women engaged in a mix of traditional household-based labor and culturally-stigmatized "men's work" outside their homes. Explanations that are solely gender-grounded camouflage the extent to which antebellum Southern women's work was constrained by the class and race positions imposed upon their households.


The conventional wisdom is that land-owning, independent households constituted the dominant units of production throughout the antebellum United States, ranging in complexity from small family farms to large plantations (Post 1982; Fox-Genovese 1983; Clark 1990; Henretta 1991). (2) In the predominant view, landless laborers were able to improve their situations to acquire the means of production (Fox-Genovese 1983: 226). Disproportionately, antebellum investigations have focused upon the Caucasian wives of landowning farmers (e.g., Osterud 1991; Fox-Genovese 1988). Scholars have ignored the bottom half of antebellum American households who owned no farm land and the large majority of nonslaveholding Southerners. (3)

Most writers still believe that "the histories and identities of antebellum Southern women were predominantly shaped by slavery" (Bernhard, Brandon, Fox-Genovese & Perdue 1992: 5), even though three-quarters of Southern women lived outside slave-holding households (Phillips 1929: 339). Overwhelmingly, Southern women have been portrayed as elites, evidenced by their sheltered domesticity (Bernhard, Brandon, Fox-Genovese & Perdue 1992) and by their relationships to the slaves they owned (Fox-Genovese 1988). Despite a few recent attempts to present "a different view of Southern history" (Scott, 1993: 1-72), poor smallholding and landless women are still conspicuously absent from the literature (Sharpless 1993). This study seeks out these "people without history" and focuses on whether their economic survival mechanisms are explained by conventional theoretical explanations.

Methodology and Sources

Except for a few analyses of small sub-areas of the region, the political economy and agricultural history of antebellum Southern Appalachia have been neglected. "Quantum-leap" generalizations have handicapped past small-community analyses of the region; consequently, this study targets all of the geographical area of Southern Appalachia, consisting of 215 antebellum counties in nine states. (4) In order to document land ownership, wealthholding, occupations, and living conditions of Appalachian women, it was necessary to generate an original data base. Consequently, this research draws heavily on manuscript collections at twelve national and regional archives. (5) From these nineteenth-century sources, I constructed a data base on 6,053 rural households located in all nine states of this large land area. With careful attention to ensuring that the samples were representative of the population distributions into state and terrain subregions, two systematic probability samples were drawn from the county enumerator manuscripts of the 1860 Census. In order to examine the living conditions of nonfarm households, it was necessary to select a sample of 3,056 households from the Census of Population manuscripts. In order to assess farm women more closely, I drew a second sample of 3,447 households from the Census of Agriculture manuscripts. (6)

To personify and humanize this statistical base, I also utilized numerous obscure primary sources, including diaries and early newspapers. Useful detail about the economic activities of Black women were gleaned from 138 Appalachian slave narratives in the WPA collection (Rawick 1972, 1977, 1979) and at Fisk University (Egypt, Masuoka & Johnson 1945). In the early 1900s, the Tennessee State Archives distributed questionnaires to Civil War veterans; this little-used collection offers much detail about the antebellum lives of these men's mothers, wives and sisters (Dyer & Moore 1985). Store accounts, poor house operations, and household structures were researched in many manuscript collections at regional archives. Also useful were oral histories collected from elderly women who grew up in landless farm households in the late nineteenth century and the early 1900s.

Economic Polarization in Southern Appalachia

Like their counterparts in other sections of the country, a minority of antebellum Appalachian women acquired their own agricultural land. One of every twelve Appalachian farms was owned and operated by a female-headed household. Moreover, Appalachian women farm owners fared slightly better than their male counterparts. Female farm owners averaged 374 acres while males averaged only 335 acres; moreover, female owners averaged nearly $2,000 more in total wealth than male owners. (7) It is deceptive, however, to concentrate on nineteenth-century farm-owning women; for females controlled a minuscule segment of the region's land and wealth and none of the political power.

As it expanded across the western frontiers of the United States, global capitalism reshaped land into a precious commodity that was out of the reach of many ordinary nineteenth-century families. Frontier lands were heavily engrossed by absentee speculators and by resident elites (Friedenberg 1992). By 1860, nearly one-half of Southern Appalachia's households owned no land; and three-fifths of the region's families either resided off farms or were legally restricted from acquiring land. (8) For example, 52% of married Appalachian Civil War soldiers did not own land before the war; and 79% of this group reported that their parents had also been landless. (9) Moreover, it was not unusual for three generations of some Appalachian families to labor as croppers or tenants on the same land (Reid 1976).

Contrary to the usual perceptions of the region as an idyllic agrarian haven in which resources were equitably distributed (Eller 1979), Southern Appalachia was highly polarized and stratified. In reality, the bottom three-fifths of the households owned less than 4% of the total 1860 wealth. In fact, the top 4% of the region's households monopolized nearly half the total wealth. Only the top one-half of the region's households owned the means of production to cultivate crops or generate market commodities. Those farm owners, merchants, industrialists, shop proprietors, and professionals averaged nearly 38 times the wealth levels typical of the bottom half. Averaging less than $248 in accumulated wealth, the poorer families were propertyless laborers who were separated by material accumulation, political power, and educational opportunities from the land owners who employed them. (10)

As a result, the bottom half of the region's adult females had no access to land. In addition, many of them were locked outside the formal occupational structure and labored in ways that kept them socially-invisible and stigmatized. Less than one-tenth of the region's households were headed by women; and these females were nearly twice as likely to be landless as were male-headed families. Moreover, male-dominated households averaged 2.6 times the wealth accumulation typical of households run by women. (11) The cultural ideal may have been that "Southern ladies, by definition, did no field work" (Sharpless, 1993: 33). However, poorer rural women undertook many forms of nontraditional labor in order to insure the survival of their households.

"Women's Work" on the Farm

Historically, the American family farm has been a patriarchal institution in which the husband's power was cemented by his ownership of the household's land and wealth and by the legal rights granted him through public policies (Faragher 1981; Sachs 1983; Fink 1992). Rather than equalizing gender differences as some scholars have claimed (Elbert 1988: 263; Osterud 1991: 2, 275), antebellum family farms mirrored the gender contradictions which resulted from the emergence of capitalism (Folbre 1991). "Men were free to pursue the work of the public world precisely because the inequitable division of labor at home made them the beneficiaries of women's and children's labor" (Faragher 1981: 550). As it incorporates new zones of the globe, capitalism embraces two antithetical labor recruitment mechanisms: (1) an historical proletarianizing of males into wage laborers who produce commodities for the market and (2) simultaneous historical generalization of non-waged labor that is overwhelmingly conducted by women in arenas that are never fully integrated into the cash economy (Hopkins & Wallerstein, 1987).

In poor women's lives, however, there is not a sharp gender division between private, household-based subsistence labor and public market-oriented labor. In the poorest families, everyone is working to generate minimal survival of the kinship unit; and the gender division of labor breaks down in the face of the constant barrage of crises and the unstable employment of male members (Martin & Beittel 1987). Around the world, poorer farm women must move back and forth continually between multiple roles which include household subsistence work, activities to generate a few market commodities, and semi-waged labor arrangements (Gallin 1984; Eldredge 1991). Despite their complex interlinkages across several economic arenas, however, such women are less likely than the male members of their households to receive "wage" remuneration for their labor. Essentially, "women's work" is socially-invisible because much of it is unpaid domestic labor viewed as having little economic value; or it is work paid for only indirectly through male intermediaries (Beneira 1979).

In antebellum Southern Appalachia, the women in poorer farm households juggled a work load around several economic functions. Unlike their more well-to-do counterparts who had access to servants, these poor wives carried the burden alone for reproduction, child rearing, household maintenance, and the care of ill or elderly relatives. In order to subsidize the low wages paid to male members of their households, these women were responsible for tending the family garden plot and raising a few livestock. To finance the family's medical care, the wife usually raised an extra head of beef or a hog to be used in barter with the physician. (12) If her household were to survive, however, the poorer Appalachian wife was required to over-extend herself so that she also committed time and energy to several other nontraditional activities that were not household-based (see Figure 1).

Some recent scholars have argued that the lives of antebellum farm wives "focused upon domestic production" and were "shaped only marginally by the occupations and economic pursuits of their fathers, brothers, and husbands" (Riley 1988: 2, 195). Other writers contend that the transition to capitalism is accompanied by the emergence of a "cult of domesticity" (Matthaei 1982) in which household maintenance becomes the realm of women who must support the external pursuit of wages by males. In this view, "the different tasks performed by men and women polarized them into different types of people" (Geschwender 1992: 3). These notions do not work very well to explain the transformations that were occurring in the antebellum South, for shielded housewifery was an unattainable myth for poorer rural women. In Southern Appalachia, most husbands still worked in close proximity to their households, usually as tenants, croppers or agricultural wage laborers on large farms producing market exports. (13) As a result, wives were expected to contribute labor as assistants to the market-oriented production of their spouses; however, their work was "absorbed into an enterprise identified as exclusively his" (Boydston 1986: 9). Wives of poorer farm owners "went and helped the men folkes in the field" (Dyer & Moore 1985, 1609), quite often to plant and "layby" crops, cut firewood, make hay, or even to plow (Green, Hahn & Hahn 1975: 73).

Nearly two of every five Appalachian farm operators were tenant farmers or sharecroppers for landlords who were producing large surpluses of grain, livestock and tobacco for export. (14) Though her labor contribution remained hidden behind that of her husband, the typical landless Appalachian farm wife was intricately controlled by the husband's land tenure contract. As part of the process in which labor and resources were transferred within households, the tenant or cropper wife was expected, along with her children, to become an "unpaid employee of her husband" (Mies 1986: 29) in the cultivation of the landlord's cash-crops. For example, one woman maintained a ramshackle cabin, tended the family garden, cared for the children, and did housework-- after working "as hard as the men" to fulfill the husband's production contract at a farmer's coal pit (Olmsted 1860: 208-9). When local farmers were short-handed at harvest or spring planting, "all worked alike" (Dyer & Moore 1985: 1229); so the husband might sell more of his wife's labor time to neighbors, then collect the wages for her work (Green, Hahn & Hahn 1975: 73).

In farm manager households, landless wives endured even greater "extra-economic coercion" from husbands who contractualized their kinship and who negotiated in "the marketplace as the 'possessors' of their wives' labor" (Boydston 1986: 22). It was not unusual for the husband to obligate his wife to complete cash-crop tasks for the landlord beyond the field labor to which males contributed. (15) In an 1828 east Kentucky agreement, one husband contracted his wife's time "for her care and attention to the dairy and smokehouse" and to spin clothes for the owner's slaves. (16) In other instances, the landlord brought pressure to bear directly on the landless wife so that she contracted out additional labor to perform tasks or produce commodities for the owner's household. (17) Landlords were also able to expropriate unpaid labor from the wives by requiring them to undertake additional tasks in exchange for food allocations. Rather than charging provisions against the husband's future crop production, the landlord could mandate a "pay-as-you-go" arrangement in which the woman traded "piecework labor" for the family's subsistence rations. (18)

By the mid-nineteenth-century, the few remaining Cherokee households had no legal standing to own property. Most of these families struggled to survive as migratory laborers, squatting temporarily on hillier sections of "friendly" White farmers (Browder 1973). The living conditions of one east Tennessee household is typical of the circumstances of these itinerant Cherokees during the 1838-1860 period. Laborers at a grist mill, the family "used to sleep in a cave." The women would "make baskets and go peddlen," hired out to wash clothes, or "split shucks for to put in bed ticks." The White wives, in turn, paid the Cherokee women in "something to eat meat or flour" (Lossiah 1984: 90-2).

Women's Production for Market

Arguing that postbellum tenant husbands held "absolute control of money matters," Hagood (1939: 84, 160) generalized that "the wife doesn't 'tote the pocketbook;" and "neither she nor her husband thinks it right for a woman to do so." Circumstances were different in antebellum Appalachian tenant/cropper households. Quite often, it was the wife who generated the only sources of cash in poorer households; and these women were important agents of accumulation for their families (Eldredge 1991: 708). While men legally controlled household wealth (Mann 1989: 798), the poorest households could not survive without pooling their labor. (19) Constrained by antebellum laws, male members of these households were contractually obligated to allocate their "entire labor" to their employers or landlords; so they had little time to devote to supplementary activities. (20) In addition, males were rarely paid in cash for their agricultural labor; instead farm owners used "due bills" or "store trade chits" as remuneration. (21) Moreover, the spouse with the better education assumed greater decision-making responsibilities for the entire household. Literate women married to uneducated husbands negotiated the family's tenure contracts, collected wages, and settled up with landlords or merchants. (22) Even though the maintenance of their families depended on their efforts and skills, such women accrued no appreciable change in status from their assumption of nontraditional roles. (23) Instead, they were culturally stigmatized as women whose participation in such masculine labor outside the home branded them as part of the "disreputable poor."

Even when they produced commodities for the market, the gender division of labor kept the economic contributions of these women socially invisible and under-paid; for culturally they were not defined as wage-workers. In addition to their "housewifely duties" and on top of their crop work, one-half of the wives of farm owners and nearly one-third of the women in landless farm households marketed small amounts of produce from their garden patches. On average, Southern Appalachian households produced for market $14.83 worth of home manufactures and $8.21 worth of garden produce. (24) Milk, butter, eggs, wool, dried fruit, ginseng or herbs were used by the women to trade with local merchants-- in addition to handcrafted items like baskets, shoes, pottery, clothing, confectioneries, hats, wool, tobacco twists, quilts or woven items (Dyer & Moore 1985: 316, 1257, 1497, 1912). (25) One of the most hidden market activities of Appalachian women was their participation as "disguised industrial proletarians" (Mies 1986: 118). Appalachian stores advanced raw materials and equipment to be used by the housewives to prepare commodities for retailing. Appalachian textile milling began as putting-out systems in which women were paid one-third in cash and two-thirds in yarn or supplies at local stores (Wallace 1961: 382). During the 1830s and 1840s, for example, one east Kentucky merchant routinely credited the manufacture of tobacco plugs, cigars, boots, shoes, wool, clothing, and "spinning" toward the yearly accounts of several local women. For cleaning and packing skins and ginseng prior to export, housewives were remunerated in "due slips" or credits toward family indebtedness. (26)

Strict public control over the movements of nonwhite Appalachians prevented their open participation in structured trade mechanisms. Denied access to most forms of visible wage labor or commodity production, free Blacks, Cherokees, and slaves were almost totally dependent upon exchanges in the "under-belly" of the market. Since they were permitted no store accounts, they had no means of bartering directly with local merchants. (27) Moreover, tolls for stall space or for inspections put the town market-house out of their economic reach. Because of the dominant racist ideology, nonwhite families lived precariously on the fringe; and they could only squeeze into the market economy through a variety of unregulated, illegal, and non-wage activities that had to remain "socially-invisible."

Free Black, Cherokee and slave women could neither apply for nor afford peddlers' licenses; and towns passed local ordinances ordering the sheriffs to drive out itinerant nonwhites. As a result, these women engaged in illegal street and door-to-door vending of their wares. In addition to their limited crops and hunting, Cherokee squatters traded "pretty ponies" and marketed "de beautifulest baskets" colored with "natchel dyes" (Rawick 1972: 13: 130). Appalachian slave women "done different things to make a little money" (Egypt, Masuoka & Johnson 1945), and the informal sector provided the only mechanism by which "a slave had of getting any money" (Rawick 1979: 10: 4345). At night and on weekends, slave women creatively refashioned limited resources into commodities that could be peddled in towns, including: cornshuck

horse collars, straw hats, baskets, opossum or raccoon hides, and wild partridges. (28) Free Blacks and slaves also relied on Whites to market their commodities, frequently paying commissions on the transactions. For example, shoemakers were permitted to produce footwear for a fee from the purchasers' leather. Mistresses "allus helpe[d] all de slave women wid their buyin' and sold all der chickens and eggs," garden produce, orchard or wild fruits, and knitted or woven goods. (29)

In addition, Appalachian women marketed as services some of "the same labour processes usually performed as unpaid labour for household maintenance" (Bouquet 1986: 244). Nearly one-third of the wives of farm owners and more than one-half of the wives of tenant farmers took in boarders to supplement family incomes. (30) As partial payment of household indebtedness, landlords often required their cottage tenants or sharecroppers to board seasonal laborers. (31) Landless farm women also earned income as washwomen and wood choppers or by providing seamstress, midwife or "herb doctor" services to neighbors (Green, Hahn & Hahn 1975: 15-16; Dyer & Moore 1985: 1931).

Employment of Women in Nontraditional Work

Some scholars have argued that very few antebellum rural women engaged in "men's work" outside the home (Riley 1988) because they were constrained by cultural ideals of feminine domesticity (Bernhard, Brandon, Fox-Genovese & Perdue 1992). In reality, working solely within the sphere of the house was a luxury enjoyed only by the wives of more economically-secure Southern farm owners or proprietors. In Southern Appalachia, nearly half of the wives and female heads of household engaged in labor and income-generating activities outside their homes; and the vast majority of them were employed in occupations culturally-ascribed to be "men's work" (See Table 1). Two-thirds of them managed farms or shops; about 4% of them sold their professional or artisan skills; and another one-tenth of them were wage laborers.

To generate household income, most Appalachian women broke drastically with the gender conventions usually attributed to Southern society. Only a little more than one-quarter of them rose above impoverishment by owning farms, stores, shops, or by acquiring professional educations. The majority of these income-generating women lived in poor households that owned less than $200 in assets. Struggling to eke out their subsistence in the most precarious segment of the antebellum "man's world," nearly two-fifths of these women were tenant farmers, croppers, or agricultural laborers. Another 13.3% of these "working" women were employed in artisan trades usually practiced by males (shoemakers, millers, carpenters, tanners), in commercial wage labor typically done by males (stage drivers, wagoners, boat operators), or in industrial wage labor. For instance, Sally Michael of Burke County, North Carolina marketed several hundred clay pipes at a time to nearby merchants at 25 cents per dozen (Shaffer 1993). In 1860, nearly one-fifth of the wives of nonslaveholding farm owners and almost one-third of the wives of landless farm operators were employed in wage-paying occupations. In fact, 6% of the region's 1860 factory and mining jobs were filled by women. In western North Carolina, women comprised nearly one-fifth of the laborers in factories which manufactured cotton cloth and tobacco. (32)

The remaining one-fifth of those adult females who reported occupations other than homemaker were engaged in non-wage activities which were traditional extensions of domestic "women's work": boarding house operators, washwomen, textiles/ clothing putting-out, or prostitution. Although many scholars emphasize "the centrality of women's sheltered sexuality and domestic identity" (Bernhard, Brandon, Fox-Genovese & Perdue 1992: 6), there were "disremembered" Appalachian women who did not enjoy the luxury of such a life-style. Despite the class-bound ideology of domesticity, Southern prostitution enjoyed its greatest period of openness and social tolerance between 1820 and 1870. The physical destructiveness of prostitution was minimized since it was viewed as an inevitable and useful outlet for "natural" male passions (Walkowitz 1980: 43-6). Moreover, nineteenth-century public perceptions were that prostitution was "immeasurably better than begging" because it was "honest work" that kept these women from becoming burdens to the community Poor Houses (New York Daily Times, 22 January 1853).

Advertisements for the services of prostitutes appeared in the region's antebellum newspapers (Tennessee Gazette, 15 February 1804); and the Census enumerators candidly identified "bawdy house" or "prostitute" as the occupation of some unmarried mothers. Strolling women worked the crowds that gathered on Appalachian county court days, "for the sole purpose of drinking and pandering to the lustful passions" (Newsome 1934: 311). "Bawdy houses" boomed near the region's railroad depots and extractive industries (e.g., McClary 1960: 103). According to one Appalachian veteran, his cottage-tenant mother bore seven illegitimate children by her landlords, some of whom "had negroes and property," but still "never did any thing" to help them (Dyer & Moore 1985: 996). In antebellum southeast Tennessee, a Cherokee woman "wandered from farm to farm, and her and her children only got to stay [on the land] when she let the man have his way." (33)

There was one final way in which Appalachian women engaged in invisible labor outside the home. About 15% of the agricultural laborers residing on the region's farms were White and Black women and children who had been "auctioned off by the Poor house." (34) In addition, some of the region's indigent women "bound themselves out" to farmers (Wallace 1961: 382). Locked into an economically-marginal position, poor Appalachian households sometimes practiced an extreme form of the contractualization of kinship. As a

"last-ditch" mechanism for sustaining the household unit, impoverished Appalachian parents "bound out" their own offspring or kin. Single mothers often apprenticed their sons for seven years or longer "to learn a trade" from some artisan or farmer (Dyer & Moore 1985: 1705). In addition, Appalachian parents could indenture their children to work on annual contracts in factories or mines. (35) Because of severely-limited economic opportunities, free Blacks also "bound out" their children to work for their "vittils and clothes and schoolin'" (Rawick 1972: 10 (5): 211). Several Civil War veterans reported that they were indentured on annual contracts as farm laborers "from the time [they] was nine yeares of age every year until the [Civil] war" (Dyer & Moore 1985: 996-7).

Theoretical Reprise

This study pinpoints historical fallacies in three conventional explanations of the gender division of labor in antebellum rural households. First, the conceptual focus on subsistence, simple commodity or independent household producers (e.g., Post 1982; Clark 1990) ignores the large population of poor landless households who owned no means of production. Second, the real life experiences of rural Appalachian women contradict the agrarian vision of "separate but equal" labor spheres postulated by some optimistic scholars (Matthaei 1982: 114-19; Elbert 1988: 263; Osterud 1991). Third, adequate explanations are not provided by the view that household labor is divided between males' wage labor and women's subsistence work (Mann 1989; Folbre 1991).

Appalachian women did not just subsidize the wage labor of male household members through their "uncommoditized household work" (Redclift 1985). Like their contemporary Third World counterparts (Martin & Beittel 1987: 218), Appalachian women superimposed several types of income-generating labor upon their domestic responsibilities. In poorer Appalachian households, there was no clear gender division of labor which separated work into "women's production for subsistence" and "male-dominated production for exchange," as some scholars have hypothesized (Mann 1989: 777). Conventional applications of the "gender division of labor" are grounded in erroneous historical assumptions and class biases. If there were an antebellum "separate domestic sphere," it could only have been characteristic of middling to wealthier land-owning women. Looking only at the household-based labor of antebellum rural women sends the analyst in search of a myth that grew out of the gender conventions of nineteenth-century elites (Kerber 1988). Because their households' subsistence could not be produced from the land, women in the bottom half of antebellum households routinely worked outside the home.

In reality, the cultural ideals of a "cult of domesticity" stand in sharp contrast to the class-race-gender vortex in which poor rural Southern women were trapped. On the one hand, poor women were caught in a marginal position legitimated by public policies that granted males monopolistic control over family wealth and the political arena. On the other hand, the daily lives of these same women were circumscribed by the class and race position of their households within their local communities. As things unfolded, the lines were sometimes fuzzy because class, gender or race did not always weigh equally or consistently in every circumstance. For example, slaveholding women had more daily contact with (and more personal "respect" for) slave women than they did those landless women they labelled "poor white trash" (Fox-Genovese 1988). Likewise, matrilineal traditions allowed Cherokee women to be less politically dominated by their husbands; however, these poor women were at the very bottom of the class-race pecking order in Appalachian communities.

Consequently, explanations that are solely gender-grounded camouflage the structuring of women's work within the constraints of their class and race positions. On the one hand, household maintenance was sharply divided along gender lines; and husbands could market the labor of their spouses. On the other hand, class and race came more strongly into play when women engaged in labor or production outside the home. Wide class and racial cleavages separated poor Appalachian women and their more well-to-do counterparts who owned the means of production. Moreover, rural antebellum poor women were a semiproletariat who, over their life cycles, derived the bulk of the means of subsistence for their families from outside the wage economy (Wallerstein 1983). That is not to imply, however, that such labor was all household-based; for poor rural women frequently engaged in "men's work" that Southern cultural ideals stigmatized as inappropriate pursuits for "respectable ladies." A hallmark of poor rural women the world over has been their capacity to weave together a creative tapestry of household and external outputs in order to accumulate "a consumption fund adequate for sustaining and replenishing" (Smith 1984: 81-2) the labor force.


1. Funding for this research was provided by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. This article received the 1994 Szymanski Award

from the Marxist Section of the American Sociological Association.

2. For an overview of this literature, see Kulikoff (1989).

3. Except for the research of Bode & Ginter (1987) about Georgia, antebellum tenancy and landless agricultural laborers have been ignored.

4. Southern Appalachia is defined to be 215 antebellum mountain, hill-plateau, and ridge-valley counties in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. For a map, see Campbell (1921).

5. Public records and family manuscript collections were utilized at the following archives: National Archives; Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Salt Lake City); Tennessee State Archives (Nashville); Duke University Library; Virginia State Library & Archives (Richmond); Maryland Hall of Records (Annapolis): North Carolina State Archives (Raleigh); Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); University of Tennessee (Knoxville); University of Kentucky (Lexington); University of Virginia (Charlottesville) and West Virginia University (Morgantown).

6. In subsequent discussion of trends, I do not draw comparisons between state and terrain subareas because there were only slight variations from the regional averages.

7. Derived from analysis of the farm sample.

8. Derived from analysis of the Census of Population sample and from analysis of aggregated county data in the published Census.

9. Derived from analysis of questionnaire responses of 474 Appalachian Civil War veterans (Dyer & Moore 1985).

10. Statistics derived from analysis of Census of Population sample.

11. Derived from analysis of Census of Population sample.

12. Oral history collected by author. Dyer & Moore (1985: 1229). Also numerous entries of livestock or produce received by physicians in payment of annual medical accounts in these manuscript collections at West Virginia University: Physician's Account Book, 1833-1839, Peter T. Laisley Papers; Physician's Daybook, 1855-1860, Marmaduke Dent Papers.

13. Analysis of the 1860 Census of Population sample indicates that an overwhelming majority of Appalachian households were engaged in farming; however, only about two-fifths of them owned their own land. For discussion of Appalachian agricultural exports to the Deep South, see Hilliard (1972) and Otto (1989).

14. Analysis of the farm sample reveals that tenancy and sharecropping occurred in every geographical sector of the region.

15. See, for example, Green, Hahn & Hahn (1975: 15-17, 17, 19, 22, 25, 33, 41, 65).

16. Agreement dated 1 November 1828 in Wickliffe-Preston Papers, University of Kentucky [hereafter cited as Wickliffe-Preston MSS].

17. Several entries for Mrs. Foster making clothes for plantation owner and slaves in Aldie Memorandum Book, 1838-1850, Berkeley Family Papers, University of Virginia [hereafter cited as Berkeley MSS]. Also see Dyer & Moore (1985, 1401).

18. In one east Kentucky contract, for example, the farm manager agreed "to purchase all the family's produce and provisions and furniture" through the landlord, who expected the wife's "spinning and milk in exchange for the wheat" (Agreement dated 1 November 1828, Wickliffe-Preston MSS).

19. Analysis of the 1860 Census of Population sample indicates that nearly one-third of the Appalachian households owned less than $100 in accumulated wealth. In addition, more than half of the household heads reported that they were unemployed 3-5 months of the previous year. Analysis of aggregated county totals in the 1840 published Census shows that Southern Appalachians were 2.2 times more likely to be illiterate than other Americans. For a parallel discussion of Third World women, see Martin & Beittel (1987: 218-22).

20. Nineteenth-century public policy was dominated by the judicial view that the employer owned the "entirety" of the laborer's time over the period of hire, including discretionary control over "leisure" time (Orren 1991). In short, the male who contracted his labor had no "free" time.

21. Numerous ledger entries or "chits" found in the following antebellum farm journals: Aldie Memorandum Book, 1838-1850 and William N. Berkeley Ledger, 1857-1868 in Berkeley MSS; James Mallory Farm Journal, 1834-1860, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina; 1853 Account Book, Edward E. Meredith Papers, West Virginia University; 1831-1850 Account Books, Courtney Family Papers, West Virginia University; 1813-1863 Account Books, Samuel, Richard and Rowland Bryarly Papers, Duke University.

22. Antebellum store accounts are replete with transactions between merchants and women, often with the accounts listed in their own names, rather than their husbands. For archival sources, see the previous note.

23. For a parallel discussion of Third World women, see Gallin (1984: 393).

24. Marketing of garden produce determined from analysis of farm sample. Average home manufactures and market produce aggregated from county totals in the published Census of Agriculture.

25. Appalachian country stores accepted raw produce and home manufactures from women in trade for goods or indebtedness. Numerous such account credits were found in these manuscript collections: West Virginia University: Samuel D. Thorn Ledger in Samuel W. Shingleton Records; General Store Account Books, 1858-1860 in M.J. Garrison & Co. Records; General Store Ledgers, 1836-1860 in Jacob Guseman Records; University of Kentucky: Account Books, 1800-1820, Graham Account Book; Store Accounts, Forsythe Family Papers; Duke University: Samuel P. Sherrill Account Book; Account Book, 1845-47 and Daybooks and Account Books, 1827-1867 in Alfred M. & John A. Foster Papers; H.I. Rhodes Memorandum Book; Benjamin Pennybacker Daybook; Daybook of Mercantile Accounts, 1854-55, John M. Orr Papers.

26. Entries in Forsythe Accounts MSS.

27. In my scrutiny of 47 manuscript Appalachian store accounts at regional archives, I did not discover a single account for a slave who was advanced credit. I did discover one account for a free Black whose charges were guaranteed by a local White farm owner. Merchants had no legal recourse to recover indebtedness from slaves, for their masters controlled their labor and their property. There were accounts for a few slaves at the company stores for industrial sites; however, these were really records of extra-time wages, not outright granting of independent credit. Masters hired out slaves for a fixed annual contract, and their wages were paid at year-end to the owners. These company store accounts permitted slaves to purchase items after they had accrued extra work time (beyond the contract with their owners); however, commodities were not advanced to the slaves on credit.

28. For commodity production of slaves, see Rawick (1972: 4: 76; 6: 154, 268) and Rawick (1977: 10: 4345).

29. Quote from Rawick (1979: 3: 793). For shoemaking, see Egypt, Masuoka & Johnson (1945: 130, 108). For other instances, see Rawick (1972: 1: 427, 16: 87); Rawick (1979: 9: 3879).

30. Derived from analysis of farm sample.

31. Boarders are identified in the Census manuscripts entries for households. Numerous credits and debits for boarding laborers in these manuscript collections at West Virginia University: Charles C. Miller Farm Records, 1831-40; Account Book, 1850-1853 in William Hall Papers.

32. Derived from analysis of aggregated county data in the published 1860 Census of Manufacturing.

33. Oral history collected by author.

34. Derived from analysis of farm sample. Such laborers were identified by Census enumerators as "indentured," "bound labor," or "poor house inmate." Quote from Census of Agriculture enumerator manuscript for Calhoun, AL, entry 719.

35. Several entries in Census of Population enumerator manuscripts; also entries in Census of Manufacturing manuscripts.


Beneira, L. 1979. "Reproduction, Production and the Sexual Division of Labour." Cambridge Journal of Economics 3: 203-25.

Bernhard, Virginia, Betty Brandon, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, & Theda Perdue, eds. 1992. Southern Women: Histories and Identities. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Bode, Frederick A. & Donald E. Ginter. 1987. Farm Tenancy and the Census in Antebellum Georgia. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Bouquet, M. 1986. Family, Servants and Visitors. Norwich: Geobooks.

Boydston, Jeanne. 1986. "To Earn Her Daily Bread: Housework and Antebellum Working-Class Subsistence." Radical History Review 35: 7-25.

Browder, Nathaniel C. 1973. "The Cherokee Indians and Those Who Came After: Notes for a History of Cherokee County, North Carolina, 1835-1860." Unpublished Manuscript, University of Tennessee Special Collections.

Campbell, John C. 1921. The Southern Highlander and His Homeland. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Clark, Christopher. 1990. The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780-1860. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Dyer, Gustavus W. and John T. Moore, comp. 1985. The Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires. Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press.

Egypt, Ophelia, H. Masuoka, & C. S. Johnson, comp. 1945. "Unwritten History of Slavery: Autobiographical Account of Negro Ex-slaves." Unpublished Manuscript, Fisk University, Social Science Document No. 1.

Elbert, Sarah. 1988. "Women and Farming: Changing Structures, Changing Roles." In Women and Farming: Changing Roles, Changing Structures, ed. W.G. Haney & J.B. Knowles. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Eldredge, Elizabeth A. 1991. "Women in Production: The Economic Role of Women in Nineteenth-Century Lesotho." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 16 (4): 707-31.

Eller, Ronald D. 1979. "Land and Family: An Historical View of Preindustrial Appalachia." Appalachian Journal 6: 83-110.

Faragher, John M. 1981. "History from the Inside-out: Writing the History of Women in Rural America." American Quarterly 33: 537-57.

Fink, Deborah. 1992. Agrarian Women: Wives and Mothers in Rural Nebraska, 1880-1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Folbre, Nancy. 1991. "The Unproductive Housewife: Her Evolution in Nineteenth-Century Economic Thought." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 16: 463-84.

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. 1983. "Antebellum Southern Households: A New Perspective on a Familiar Question." Review of the Fernand Braudel Center 7 (2): 215-54.

_______________________. 1988. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Friedenberg, Daniel M. 1992. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Land: The Plunder of Early America. Buffalo: Prometheus Books.

Gallin, Rita S. 1984. "The Entry of Chinese Women into the Rural Labor Force: A Case Study from Taiwan." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 9 (3): 383-98.

Geschwender, James A. 1992. "Ethgender, Women's Waged Labor, and Economic Mobility." Social Problems 39 (1): 1-16.

Green, Fletcher M., Thomas F. Hahn & Nathalie W. Hahn, eds. 1975. Ferry Hill Plantation Journal: Life on the Potomac River and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: 4 January 1838 - 15 January 1839. Shepherdstown, WV: American Canal & Transportation Center.

Hagood, Margaret J. (1939) 1977. Mothers of the South: Portraiture of the White Tenant Farm Woman. New York: W.W. Norton.

Henretta, James A. 1991. The Origins of American Capitalism. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Hilliard, Sam B. 1972. Hog Meat and Hoecake: Food Supply in the Old South. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Hopkins, Terence K. and Immanuel Wallerstein. 1987. "Capitalism and the Incorporation of New Zones into the World-Economy." Review of the Fernand Braudel Center 10: 763-80.

Kerber, Linda K. 1988. "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History." Journal of American History 75: 9-39.

Kulikoff, Allan. 1989. "The Transition to Capitalism in Rural America." William & Mary Quarterly 46: 120-44.

Lossiah, Aggie R. 1984. "The Story of My Life as Far Back as I Can Remember." Journal of Cherokee Studies 9 (2): 89-99.

McClary, Ben H., ed. 1960. "The Education of a Southern Mind: Extracts from the Diary of John Coffee Williamson, 1860-1861." East Tennessee Historical Society Publications 32: 59-103.

Mann, Susan A. 1989. "Slavery, Sharecropping and Sexual Inequality." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14 (4): 774-98.

Martin, William G. & Mark Beittel. 1987. "The Hidden Abode of Reproduction: Conceptualizing Households in Southern Africa." Development and Change 18: 215-34.

Matthaei, Julie A. 1982. An Economic History of Women in America: Women's Work, the Sexual Division of Labor, and the Development of Capitalism, New York: Schocken Books.

Mies, Maria. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. London: Zed Books, 1986.

Newsome, A.R., ed. 1934. "John Brown's Journal of Travel in Western North Carolina in 1795." North Carolina Historical Review 11: 284-313.

Olmsted, Frederick L. 1860. A Journey in the Back Country, 1853-1854. New York: Burt Franklin.

Orren, Karren. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Osterud, Nancy G. 1991. Bonds of Community: The Lives of Farm Women in Nineteenth-Century New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Otto, John S. 1989. The Southern Frontiers, 1607-1860: The Agricultural Evolution of the Colonial and Antebellum South. New York: Greenwood Press.

Phillips, Ulrich B. 1929. Life and Labor in the Old South. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

Post, Charles. 1982. "The American Road to Capitalism." New Left Review No. 133: 30-51.

Rawick, George P., comp. 1972. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

_______________________. 1977. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, Supplement I. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing.

_______________________. 1979. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, Supplement II. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing.

Redclift, N. "The Contested Domain: Gender, Accumulation and the Labour Process." In Beyond Employment: Household, Gender and Subsistence, ed. N. Redclift & E. Mingione. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Reid, Joseph D. 1976. "Antebellum Southern Rental Contracts." Explorations in Economic History 13: 69-83.

Riley, Glenda. 1988. The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Sachs, Carolyn E. 1983. The Invisible Farmers: Women in Agricultural Production. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld.

Scott, Anna F., ed. 1993. Unheard Voices: The First Historians of Southern Women. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Shaffer, Steve. 1993. "Southern Mountain Pipe Maker: Sally Michael." Appalachian Heritage 22 (1): 32-47.

Sharpless, Rebecca. 1993. "Southern Women and the Land." Agricultural History 67 (2): 30-42.

Smith, Joan. 1984. "Nonwage Labor and Subsistence." In Households and the World-Economy, ed. J. Smith, I. Wallerstein, & Hans-Dieter Evers. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Walkowitz, Judith R. 1980. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wallace, David D. 1961. South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1983. Historical Capitalism. London: Verso Editions.