Established by congress in early 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands—more commonly known as “the Freedmen's Bureau”—assumed the Herculean task of overseeing the transition from slavery to freedom in the post–Civil War South. Although it was called the Freedmen's Bureau, the agency profoundly affected African-American women. Until now remarkably little has been written about the relationship between black women and this federal government agency.
As Mary Farmer-Kaiser clearly demonstrates in this revealing work, by failing to recognize freedwomen as active agents of change and overlooking the gendered assumptions at work in Bureau efforts, scholars have ultimately failed to understand fully the Bureau's relationships with freedwomen, freedmen, and black communities in this pivotal era of American history.
Mary Farmer-Kaiser —
Mary Farmer-Kaiser is Associate Professor of History as well as the James D. Wilson/BORSF Memorial Professor in Southern Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Farmer-Kaiser, Mary. Freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau: race, gender, and public policy in the age of emancipation. Fordham University, 2010. 275p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780823232116; ISBN 9780823232123 pbk. Reviewed in 2010oct CHOICE.
Farmer-Kaiser (Univ. of Louisiana-Lafayette) brings freedwomen front and center in the discussion of the Reconstruction-era Freedmen's Bureau. She makes a compelling case that freedwomen have been largely ignored in previous discussions and are worthy of much more attention. "This interaction between freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau exposes the ways in which both former slave women and northern gender ideology shaped the public politics of early Reconstruction." Extensively using Freedmen's Bureau records, Farmer-Kaiser illustrates the gendered interactions of freedwomen and the men of the Bureau regarding marriage, relief for the destitute, work and lack thereof, child custody, and justice. One of the most compelling parts of the work is the discussion of what "orphan" meant in the Reconstruction South and how that affected freedwomen in particular. The work is easy to read and covers the entirety of the South. The notes and bibliography will be of use to anyone working on Reconstruction topics, especially those related to gender.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- K. L. Gorman, Minnesota State University--Mankato