Badge of Slavery: Pubescent Female Slaves and Clothing

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
Courtney Moore , University of Florida
Studying the enslaved adolescent female, this paper, entitled “Badge of Slavery: Pubescent Females and Clothing,” explores how the acquisition of dresses for slave girls illustrated their ensuing adulthood.  By putting on a dress and shedding a shift, the adolescent slave female marked one of the passages into womanhood.  Once clothed in the slave wardrobe, the teenager was draped with a badge of slavery and enveloped within the capitalistic and sexual edicts that defined her place within the institution.

            Based on a fresh reading of evidence from WPA interviews, slave narratives, and travel accounts, I argue that clothing--dresses, shoes and headdress--during adolescence helped girls to understand their un-free status and the expectations of white slaveholders.  Moreover, the acquisition of adult clothing also indicated enslaved females’ maturity and individuality, including the onset of menstrual cycles, their ability to attract the opposite sex, and, in some cases, their willingness to resist white authority.  How slaves’ identity was shaped and defined became crucial to the development of the adult female slave and subsequently the institution of slavery itself.  Without young blacks learning that they were slaves and how to live within slavery, the system itself might have collapsed.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>