Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is Chancellor's Professor and Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. An award-winning instructor, Jones-Rogers teaches courses in African-American history, the history of American slavery, and women’s and gender history. She is the author of They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (2019), which won the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery (at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), Harriet Tubman Prize for the best nonfiction book published in the United States on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World, the Southern Association for Women’s Historians, Julia Cherry Spruill Prize awarded for the best book in southern women’s history, the Southern Historical Association’s Charles S. Sydnor Award which is awarded for the best book in southern history published in an odd-numbered year, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic’s Best Book Prize, and the OAH’s Merle Curti Prize for the best book in American social history. Jones-Rogers was also the first African-American and the third woman to win the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History since the award’s inception in 1980.

She is currently at work on two new projects. Her second book, “Women of the Trade,” reorients our understanding of the British Atlantic slave trade by centering the lives and experiences of English, African, and Afro-English women, free and captive, in its telling. Her third, “Women, American Slavery, and the Law,” will be the first book-length manuscript to examine the relationship between gender and the evolution of American slave/property law in both the North and the South from the colonial period to slavery’s legal end. Funds from the Hellman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation have supported this work.

OAH Lectures by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

This presentation draws upon the testimony of formerly enslaved African-Americans, the correspondence and account books of slave traders, and a wide range of other material (including travel writing, newspapers, and business directories) to show the myriad ways in which white, primarily married, women actively participated in the South’s slave market economy, which involved the buying, selling, and hiring of enslaved people.

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.

Many historians have long considered the century following the ratification of the Constitution to be a regressive era for free women. This talk will examine the ways that two clauses within the Constitution—the clause to abolish the African slave trade and the fugitive slave clause—created opportunities that helped certain women to circumvent many of the economic and legal disabilities that accompanied the denial of their full citizenship.

Historians have examined the profound effects that the contingencies of battle had upon white southern women’s daily lives in the Civil War era, and they have chronicled these women’s responses to the economic shifts that the war wrought. But few have explored the particular ways that the war impacted women who owned enslaved people. This presentation shows that, for white slave-owning women, who frequently owned more slaves than land, the Civil War was a pecuniary battle that they fought because they wanted to preserve their investments in an economy and a way of life that was predicated upon the ownership of African-Americans and unfettered access to their labor. Emancipation, and the subsequent de-commodification of black people, robbed these slave-owning women of their primary source of wealth and made them economically dependent on others in ways they abhorred. More profoundly, white slave-owning women wrestled with the implications and consequences of emancipation in ways that had tremendous and traumatic consequences upon African-American lives.

In December of 1662, Virginia’s legislators decided to pass an act which made the free or enslaved status of a child born to an “Englishman” and a “negro” woman in the colony contingent upon the free or enslaved status of their mother. Such a choice was and remains remarkable to scholars because it stood in direct contrast with the paternal descent laws that prevailed in England. In trying to explain Virginia’s decision to implement a maternal rather than paternal descent law, legal historians and slavery scholars generally contend that legislators codified local custom and/or drew heavily upon Roman slave law, canon law, British laws related to bastardy and animal husbandry, the law of nations, or laws governing Iberian systems of slavery. Rather than approach the questionable origins of British colonial descent laws from a strictly Anglo- or Eurocentric perspective, this presentation considers the ways that West African customs and laws may have influenced English thinking about matrilineal descent and possibly influenced their decisions to implement matrilineal descent laws in their North American colonies.

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