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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Barbara Krauthamer

Second Advisor

Sarah Cornell

Third Advisor

Traci Parker

Subject Categories

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.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 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