White women were crucial to the commodification of enslaved mothers’ breast milk and the nutritive and maternal care they provided to white children, and in so doing, white women enhanced enslaved women’s value in southern slave markets.
This presentation examines the market that white southern mothers created for enslaved wet nurses and the impact their actions had upon enslaved women and their children. White mothers routinely sought out and procured enslaved wet nurses to suckle their children, and when they did so, they created a demand for the intimate labor that such nurses performed in southern households. They further commodified enslaved women’s reproductive bodies, their breast milk, and the nutritive and maternal care they provided to white infants. Their desire and demand for enslaved wet nurses transformed these women’s ability to suckle into a form of largely invisible, skilled labor, and created a niche sector of the slave market that supplied white women with the laborers they sought.