The topic of slavery isn’t an easy one to talk about, but it is a part of America’s past. In historical works, white women are not often spoken of as slave owners or as direct beneficiaries of slavery. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers uses first person sources to show us that white women did benefit and profit from slavery in America, and were often slave owners in their own right.

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The summary, from Amazon:

A bold and searing investigation into the role of white women in the American slave economy.

Bridging women’s history, the history of the South, and African-American history, this audiobook makes a bold argument about the role of white women in American slavery. Historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave-owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. Because women typically inherited more slaves than land, enslaved people were often their primary source of wealth.

Not only did white women often refuse to cede ownership of their slaves to their husbands, they employed management techniques that were as effective and brutal as those used by slave-owning men.

White women actively participated in the slave market, profited from it, and used it for economic and social empowerment. By examining the economically entangled lives of enslaved people and slave-owning women, Jones-Rogers presents a narrative that forces us to rethink the economics and social conventions of slaveholding America.

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I genuinely enjoyed They Were Her Property despite the subject matter and the horrors discussed in this book. Historians in the past have made it seem like white women were sympathetic and kind to slaves and that if they owned any, their property was ceded to their husbands upon marriage. They are not made out to be the abusers. However, it was often the case that white women remained owners of their slaves after marriage, and the atrocities they committed were equal to those of their male counterparts. Slave ownership made up these women’s wealth, as they often owned no other property.

The part I found especially interesting about this book was how these white women acted after slaves were emancipated. Some hid the truth from their slaves, and many manipulated children into staying with them. People who rented out the services of slaves from their masters would then pay the slaves a fraction of those wages to hire them on, a form of slavery in itself. Women who did “lose” their slaves petitioned to the government for recompense as this was the only property they owned.

Obviously, slavery is a difficult topic to discuss for many Americans. I also want to note that this book uses language in regards to Black folks that is not acceptable for white people to use today. However, it is only used in quoting primary sources.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. Allyson Johnson did a great job narrating. I looked up her others works and she seems to focus on books about the South. She did expertly performed the dialectical accents, in my opinion.

This is an excellent and necessary book. It teaches us about a topic historians often skirt around. Whit women in the South were made out to be benevolent, when really they committed many atrocities during the era of slavery, the results of which are still felt today. This was a 5 star read for me.

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They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American SouthThey Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Using first person accounts, this book takes a deep dive into how white women benefited from slavery in America, and how they abused, sold, and schemed to keep/be recompensed for their slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War. While historical texts have made women slaveholders out to be sympathetic or at least not directly benefiting from slavery, this account shows the proof that they were directly involved and often owners in their own right.

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Book Club Questions


  1. Do you feel the first-person interviews collected by the Federal Writers Project can be considered accurate? Remember, the interviewers were white and Southern.
  2. Former perceptions that white women were not complicit in slavery shields these women (and arguably their ancestors) from the reality of the crimes they committed. The reasons behind this are nuanced. Why was this reality hidden for so long?
  3. What facts from this book had you never considered previously, and how does this change your perspective of slavery in America?


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P.S. I listened to this book on Audible. Try Audible and get two free audiobooks!

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