Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.
Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.
Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.
Author ORCID Identifier
Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
African American Studies | Africana Studies | American Studies | Cultural History | Family Law | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Genealogy | History | History of Gender | Legal | Political History | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social History | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies
During the processes of emancipation and Reconstruction, black women’s legal, socio-political, and economic landscape changed rapidly. Regulatory laws passed by the Freedmen’s Bureau and state governments particularly impacted the boundaries of freedwomen’s rights and opportunities. This dissertation investigates black women’s intimate relationships during this transitional period. I define the Reconstruction South as the period during and after emancipation in states where slavery existed at the start of the Civil War.
This dissertation rests on three central inquiries. First, I reconsider the motivation, implementation, and outcome of Reconstruction Era regulations. Second, I investigate the impacts of those laws on black women, uncovering the methods they used to respond to claims on their freedom and family. Third, I construct a more nuanced analysis of freedwomen as individuals, mothers, and romantic partners. From this, I argue that freedwomen built and protected their intimate bonds in complex ways. Their interactions with this new regulatory system included varying degrees of avoidance, subversion, and weaponization. Strategies differed not just between individuals but also from situation to situation.
This interdisciplinary study is primarily a social history at the intersection of gender and African American studies. It also utilizes methods from legal, political, and sociological studies. I use a combination of narrative, legal, and government sources to build fragmented materials into stories of freedwomen. Significant collections include Freedmen’s Bureau records, Works Progress Administration interviews, and government databases. These archives are a production of power, influenced by what and who were deemed important enough to include. More than the words on the page or the biases within them, I also read for what is missing. I argue that black women’s silence happened not only by oppression but also by choice. Noteworthy topics in this project include black patriarchy, cohabitation laws, marriage legalization, cohabitation laws, apprenticeships, polygamy, and reparations.
Brinn, Heather R., "Freedom’s Bonds: Black Women’s Intimate Relationships in the Reconstruction South" (2023). Doctoral Dissertations. 2959.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.
Available for download on Friday, September 01, 2028