They Were Her Property

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They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South
The cover depicts an illustration of a slave auction in a large room with an ornate ceiling, where enslaved people stand on an auction block and the auctioneer is centered behind a dais. An audience of white people surround them, several of whom wear dresses.
AuthorStephanie Jones-Rogers
CountryUnited States
SubjectHistory, women's studies, business & economics, 19th century, American American studies
PublisherYale University Press
Publication date
February 19, 2019
Media typePrint & Digital
Pages296 (hardcover first edition)
AwardsLos Angeles Times Book Prize, Merle Curti Social History Award

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South is a nonfiction history book by Stephanie Jones-Rogers. They Were Her Property is "the first extensive study of the role of Southern white women in the plantation economy and slave-market system"[1] and disputes conventional wisdom that white women played a passive or minimal role in slaveholding. It was published by Yale University Press and released on February 19, 2019. For the book Jones-Rogers received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Merle Curti Social History Award from the Organization of American Historians.[2][3]


They Were Her Property disputes the idea that white women did not play a significant role in slaveholding in the American south.[2][4] Jones-Rogers uses primary source documents to illustrate the scope and conduct of white women slaveholders, including testimonials of formerly enslaved people archived by the Federal Writers' Project, and bills of sales for enslaved people bought and sold by white women.[3] The author stated that around 40% of bills of sales from South Carolina in the 18th century included either a female buyer or seller.[2]

Jones-Rogers argues that white women were groomed to become plantation mistresses from girlhood through various social norms and often exacted cruelty and sexual violence onto enslaved people.[1][4] The book addresses the widely-held belief that white women were gentler to enslaved people than white men, and dispels the notion of the "Jealous Mistress" who is angry that her husband has sex with enslaved women.[5][6]

Jones-Rogers contends that slaveholding was a key mechanism for white women to build wealth and maintain financial independence from their future husbands, and they skirted losing enslaved people to their husbands through various legal tools.[1][2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

The book received positive critical reception. In a review for The Washington Post, Elizabeth R. Varon wrote, "In holding slave-owning women to account, Jones-Rogers has provided a brilliant, innovative analysis of American slavery, one that sets a new standard for scholarship on the subject."[1] Parul Sehgal stated for The New York Times, "Jones-Rogers is a crisp and focused writer. She trains her gaze on the history and rarely considers slavery’s reverberations. They are felt on every page, however."[3] Jeff Forret said in his review for Southwestern Historical Quarterly: "Jones-Rogers offers a bold reinterpretation of the relationship between slavery and slave-owning women in the nineteenth-century South. The prose in They Were Her Property is strong and clear, containing no shortage of appalling stories of the violence and cruelty endemic to southern slavery."[5]


  • Jones-Rogers, Stephanie E. (2019). They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. Yale University Press (published 2019-02-19). ISBN 9780300218664.


  1. ^ a b c d Varon, Elizabeth R. (2019-02-28). "White women's long-overlooked complicity in the brutality of slaveholding". Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  2. ^ a b c d McDonald, Soraya Nadia (2019-03-15). "In 'They Were Her Property,' a historian shows that white women were deeply involved in the slave economy". The Undefeated (in American English). Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  3. ^ a b c Sehgal, Parul (2019-02-26). "White Women Were Avid Slaveowners, a New Book Shows". The New York Times (in American English). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  4. ^ a b North, Anna (2019-08-19). "How white women's "investment" in slavery has shaped America today". Vox. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  5. ^ a b Forret, Jeff (April 2020). "They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers". Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 123 (4): 476–477 – via Project MUSE.
  6. ^ a b Deuel, Nathan (2020-04-17). "Helpless women? Not these slave owners". Los Angeles Times (in American English). Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  7. ^ "Merle Curti Award Winners | OAH". Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  8. ^ "Announcing the 2020 Lincoln Prize Finalists | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History". Retrieved 2020-07-14.

External links[edit]