How the Southern Belle Attributed to Slavery

Painting entitled "Slave Market"

Painting entitled "Slave Market"

In the antebellum south, society was politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually built around the institution of slavery. Race and gender determined a person’s status with white slaveholding males at the top of the socieal hierarchy. With both genders, slave ownership elevated social status, thus giving women power in a system that they would not typically have power in. The sense of power that came from the institution of slavery fueled white women’s acceptance for the institution of slavery, which they advocated for based on paternalism, and in effect maternalism.

Affluent white southern women supported the institution of slavery because of the organization that slave ownership provided in the strict social hierarchy of the South. Along with this, many southern women were staunch advocates of slavery, including those non-slaveholders who endeavored to heighten their social status. The social hierarchy in the South placed white women above the slave population based on race. This extra distinction gave Southern women a sense of superiority that was not as popular in the North. Regardless of a woman’s economic class, if sbe was white she was higher in social class. Using their prescribed gender roles, they attempted to justify and actively sought to personify the moral arguments in support of the institution that gave them power in the larger society and the domestic sphere. According to Southern ideology, because slave ownership allowed women  to fulfill the domestic role to the fullest of their abilities, the institution of slavery was considered moral. [8] 

Mulberry Grove Plantation, 1794

Mulberry Grove Plantation, 1794

Frances Trollope's "Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw, or Scenes on the Mississippi"

Sketch entitled "Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jeffereson Whitlaw, or Scenes of the Mississippi", 1837

The idea was that slave ownership allowed southern women and southern plantation mistresses to portray the role of a domestic housewife. With the ownership of slaves, they were free of the manual labor associated with their domestic duties and were provided with leisure time to focus on their children and husbands. The idea of perfection that southern women tried so hard to epitimize was just another part in the heirarchy of the south. Lower class women, and women without slaves, had the belief that owning slaves would relieve them of domestic duties and manual labor, thus transforming them into the Southern plantation mistress. Southern women felt that they civilized their slaves, and without their intervention, slaveswould go back to "savagery" and wouldn't know how to behave. Because religion was so prevalent in society and actions, many women used it to defend their arguments of slavery. They believed that ownership allowed slaves to become enlightened to Christianity. 

Much like the illusion of the Southern mistress, women clung to the illusion that slavery was morally justifiable in order to preserve the structure of Southern society. Although wholly exaggerated, the women who did own slaves projected themselves to the rest of the South with the image of bliss and perfection in life -- the life of the Southern Belle. [8]

 

How the Southern Belle Attributed to Slavery