One Day We Might Be Understood: Woman, Public Space, and Property in 1890s Port-au-Prince

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 10:30 AM
Beekman Room (New York Hilton)
Anne Eller, Yale University
At the close of the nineteenth century, residents of the growing Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince endured severe inflation and financial crisis. In this paper, I attend to the traces of evidence about how working women in the city survived, and protested, the inequality of the city in the 1890s and the government’s failure to abate the severity of this crisis. The president, General Florvil Hyppolite, faced mounting opposition around the country; in the capital, which was technically in a state of siege during his entire tenure, opposition grew more subtly and reflected the social divides of the city itself. Women staged very direct acts of protest, including arson and public self-immolation. However, they also challenged stratification through more indirect strategies, including the contested occupation of key public spaces in the city and even through public art. While journalists uneasily dismissed these strategies as folly or putative insanity, their descriptions offer key evidence to analyze how non-elite women of the capital negotiated the financial collapse and sought to reclaim spaces in the city as their own.

This paper offers a larger context for this disenfranchisement and contest that is rooted in a deep division between rural and urban legal subjectivity in nineteenth-century Haiti. The growing city reflected inequalities of property holding and political personhood in rural Haiti. Building on an emerging scholarship about land tenure in post-plantation surroundings of the capital and the north, as well as studies about resource and property distribution in Port-au-Prince during later decades, I add these remarkable strategies of these women to a history of political organizing – including rural movements and exile struggles – that challenged political exclusion from the politics of the capital and the nation.

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