Stephanie Jones-Rogers: "Black Milk: Maternal Bodies, Wet Nursing, and Black Women’s Invisible Labor in the Antebellum Slave Market"

May 02, 2016


Black Milk:
Maternal Bodies, Wet Nursing, and Black Women’s Invisible Labor in the Antebellum Slave Market

Stephanie Jones-Rogers
Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley

May 11, 2016
3:00 - 4:30 PM
Humanities 1, 210

Light refreshments will be served.

This event will be a workshop on a pre-circulated chapter entitled "Black Milk: Maternal Bodies, Wet Nursing, and Black Women’s Invisible Labor in the Antebellum Slave Market.” Please contact Kayla Ayers,, for the chapter.

This manuscript chapter 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 feed their children, and when they did so, they created a demand for the intimate labor that such nurses performed. 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. By exploring the formal and informal markets through which enslaved wet nurses circulated, and being attentive to the roles white women played in creating and exploiting these markets, this chapter challenges scholars’ masculine conceptualizations of skilled labor performed by enslaved people in the South, and it demonstrates that southern slave markets touched even the most intimate spaces within white southern households.

Stephanie Jones-Rogers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley where she specializes in African-American history, women’s and gender history, and the history of American slavery. She is currently completing her book manuscript, “Mistresses of the Market: White Women and the Economy of American Slavery,” which is under contract with Yale University Press. This regional study is based on her dissertation, which won the Organization of American Historians’ 2013 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women's history. It will dramatically reshape our understanding of white women’s economic relationships to slavery, how their investments in the institution shaped their gender identities, and how these women’s economic choices impacted the lives of the enslaved people they owned. And in the Fall of 2016, she will serve as humanities consultant for the NEH-funded traveling exhibit Purchased Lives: New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, which was curated by Dr. Erin Greenwald of the Historic New Orleans Collection in Louisiana.

Stephanie is also presenting a talk at the Cultural Studies Colloquium at 12:15 in Hum 210. The talk is entitled “Lady Flesh Stealers, Female Soul Drivers, and She-Merchants: White Women and the American Slave Market.”