The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South by Catherine Clinton provides an entirely different approach to history by taking into consideration both southern history and women’s contribution to it. She explores the “hidden lives” of southern plantation mistresses who were subjected to mythical allusions until now. Her thesis considers the role of white women in the southern history during the 19th century and their contributions to the development of large scale plantations. Her major emphasis is on the elite mistresses that were masters to twenty or more slaves and played a vital role in the plantations in the late 18th century and first half of the 19th century. She further considers women oppression in the contemporary society.
Clinton’s does not restrict herself to the explorations of the mistresses’ plantation activities but he encircles every facets of their life. She provides extensive information about their household responsibilities and obligations, kinship, courtship, matrimonial affairs, domestic management, ethical values, physical state and personal well-being.
Clinton’s investigations and interpretations depend on variety of primary and secondary sources. She has explored and utilized the legal manuscripts, the property documents, letters, writings of contemporary female academies, domestic inventories, wills, physicians’ records, diaries etc. that contribute toward the authenticity of claims and arguments.
Catherine Clinton’s illustrative work is more accurate and wide-ranging as it has tried to provide a comprehensive interpretation of feminine role in the economic agricultural development of America. It interprets these developments in the social, political, economic context of American history. Clinton concludes that these plantation mistresses executed all important and multifaceted tasks on the agricultural estates and they were also burdened with household tasks and their own emotional and psychological support. Clinton’s prepositions and conclusions are not far-fetched but are based on concrete historical arguments.
Clinton, Catherine. The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983.