Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #2 Thavolia Glymph – Kaylen Su

Thavolia Glymph dives into the roles white mistresses played on a plantation household.  She states that many historians perceive these plantation mistresses as not having social power over the slaves. These mistresses were characterized as calm, women who created a loving household and cared for their slaves. Thavolia Glymph argues against this stating that there are indeed many claims from former slaves proving this false, she questions the traditional portrait that labeled elite southern women as “fragile flowers”.  She points out records of slave accounts where mistresses indeed used violence, stating, “This narrative… has been told for the most part as if there were no other, as if Lulu Wilson’s, Harriet Robinson’s, or Harriette Benton’s did not exist. … Robinson said that her mistress was the ‘meanest woman I ever seen in my whole life,’ ‘a nigger killer.’ Harriette Benton, although a slave for only seven years, remembered her mistress as ‘a debil in her own way.’” (p.20). This just goes to show not only how the narrative on violent plantation mistresses has been manipulated and almost ignored, but also how almost insignificant and invisible women were although the opposite. The violence from these mistresses, if ever talked about, was deemed as being done through the husband’s request showing white women to have no authority.   Thavolia Glymph clearly shows the usage of power the southern white woman had against slaves. We see how narratives from actual slaves were disregarded, for example as stated by Harriet Robinson, “meanest woman I ever seen in my whole life”. This just goes to show that plantation mistresses did not use their power and authority over slaves shyly. These so-called “fragile flowers” that were described to be hardworking, devout, and a mother who tried to live up to the expectations set by men, do not show the fact that these women did indeed have some power over their slaves. Thavolia Glymph also mentions that feminist historians have added on to this portrayal of a hardworking, self-sacrificing southern lady by stating things like, suffering from patriarchal authority to which “slaves were subjected”(p.23), or things like “white woman who tried to live up to responsibilities of her position.” (p.23).  Of course, some of this is true, women in the past were living in a patriarchal society, but Thavolia Glymph helps to reveal that although this may be true, white women, specifically plantation mistresses had power over slaves despite accounts that say this wasn’t the case. Thavolia Glymph then goes on to state how former slave testimonies that show plantation mistresses abusing slaves are simply not the norm and that violence from mistresses was seldom.


This reading definitely added to my knowledge of women’s power, and how manipulated stories can be.  I have always thought women had power over their slaves and never really heard otherwise. Seeing how even feminist historians change the story or put excuses to violent actions done by women is crazy to see.  A question that arose after reading this was that I wonder if other things in history were manipulated to show a better light on certain actions taken. I definitely know it’s not impossible for stories to be manipulated, and Thovia Glymph does a good job defending this.


One thought on “Blog Post #2 Thavolia Glymph – Kaylen Su”

  1. A strong post—powerfully written, and it’s clear that you grasp Glymph’s argument and share some of her outrage at the way previous histories of female slaveowners have been exculpated or whitewashed. (except at the end of paragraph 1, where your point about violence is a little unclear)

    Be sure to keep spellings of the author’s name consistent (see second para), and it’s best to use last name only after using the full name in the first use. I would further ask that if you must use the “n-word” when quoting, I would prefer if you omitted the full word and substituted an asterisk or hyphen.

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