Woman in Slavery: A Body

The lack of authority over the slave womans body is exemplified by an 1850 daguerrotype of a young slave woman named Delia, found in the photo history of the era at the Peabody Museum (Sterling and Washington18). Delia was a slave girl in Columbia, South Carolina, and belonged to an owner named B.F. Taylor (18). She was “ordered” to pose partially dressed, nude to her waist (in the picture in Sterlings book), for purposes of “scientific studies (18-19).” The photographer, Louis Agassiz, a Harvard University professor, wanted to “study the anatomical details of the African race to bolster his theory that blacks were a separate species, separately created (19).” As the authors of the book, We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century, Dorothy Sterling and Mary Helen Washington (1997) note that Delia no doubt experienced humiliation during the photo session, but the photograph portrays a young woman unaware of the sexual interest she might arouse (19).

In the post Civil War era, without resources to care for their children, and former slave women still enjoyed little authority over their bodies. Many resorted to prostitution, or became concubines, or were coerced into sex with white and black men alike, and continued to be victims of rape (Appleton 38).

Today, as we have seen in the high profile case of the singer/celebrity Rhianna, black women are just beginning to confront the secrets and humiliations of their historical past.

Works Cited

Appleton, Thomas H.

And Boswell, Angela. Searching for their Places: Women in the South Across Four Centuries. University of Missouri Press, 2003. Print.

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia

Trap. Basic Books, 2000. Print.

Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Prestwick House, Inc., 2006.


Schwalm, Leslie Ann. A Hard Fight for We: Womens Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina. University of Illinois Press, 1997. Print.

Sterling, Dorothy. (1997), Sterling, Dorothy and Washington, Mary Helen. We are Your

Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century W.W. Norton and Company, 1997. Print.

As Delia had no choice but to comply with her owners instructions, a better word than “ordered” might be forced. Order, it seems to this writer, gives one the choice to disobey, while the word forced denotes the lack of choice.

The black Barbados born celebrity/singer Rhiana and artist Chris Brown, who admitted physically abusing her, have.

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