Fath Ruffins on the division of slave labor
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Q: What is the division of labor during this period?
A: Gender always makes a difference. There were different gender expectations of men and women in the late 18th century. Region makes a big difference. In the New England, where you didn't have really enormous plantations, women are much less likely to be used as field labor. In New England women are more likely to have been cooks, maids, household servants, working in the vegetable gardens and the medicinal herbal gardens. They're growing thyme and sage. They're growing the vegetables that people are using. They're doing food processing at this time. You don't have any food in the winter unless you've slaughtered the pig or the cow, and you've salted the beef, and you've laid the potatoes away, and you've made preserves and all those kinds of things. Women are very much engaged in household or domestic tasks. But they're much more labor-intensive than we think of as household tasks. Typically, what they were doing is processing cloth kinds of products. The men are shearing the wool off the sheep, but then the women are carding it and taking all the leaves, all the dirt out of it, and making it into yarn.
Fath Davis Ruffins
Scholar and Researcher
The Smithsonian Institute
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