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African American women during slavery in the United States of America were multifaceted individuals. They were cooks, child bearers, providers, and activists. During the 18th and 19th century, the lives of African American women changed as they were dehumanized, tortured, and discriminated against. They became medical experiments, all while attending to their forced duties of captive servants and laborers. African American women experienced an abundance of trauma as they were sold and bought through the slave trade. These women had to secretly fight for their womanhood and respect, as those characteristics were stripped from their description due to the blackness of their skin.


  • Origin
  • Personal life
  • Family and Children
  • Religion
    • Education
    • Occupation
    • Acts of Freedom
    • Other Resources


  1. Origin

African American women are descendants from different tribal groups, deriving from Africa and the Caribbean through immigration. During the oppression of the tightly, packed and bounded hand to hand ship ride from Africa to the West Indies, led to the blending of cultures. During this voyage, known as the Middle Passage, women and children were held separately. African American women were stripped of their clothing, hair and culture [1]. Women were subject to brutal rapes and sexual abuse along the journey [1]. There were circumstances of the women using their sexualism to advance their current situation while on the ships. As African American women arrived at the shores of their location, some were pregnant with their abusers’ children. In reaction to the current situation, many women used unsafe measures of abortions and infanticide to prevent reproduction with unwanted males [1].

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  1. Personal Life

During this era African American women were the primary health care providers. They became doctor women and midwives helping other captives of the plantation. The slave master and his family were usually treated by a white male physician, however in some cases the mistress of the plantation preferred a doctor woman remedy [2]. The skills of a doctor woman began young, as they started their career early, watching other doctor women tend to the community, using the art of healing with a variety of herbs and roots [2].

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  1. Family and Children

Families were separated during the Middle Passage, creating an abundance of broken families before reaching the Americas. Due to slaves being considered property and not legal persons, they were not able to officially marry. A fortuitous family would be nuclear, all owned by the same slave master. In a near-nuclear ownership, the father of the family may have a different owner, captive to a different planation [3]. The father would have input more labor to receive an outcome of visitation rights to see his family [3]. On the planation, as women had children, it was common for one woman to be the primary caregiver while the other mothers worked long days and late nights. Children were required to starting working at the age of 7-8 [3]. Slave children received tasks like, playing and taking care of the owners children, running errands for the owner, and taking the owners children to school. As the slave children grew older, they eventually ended up in a cotton, tobacco, or rice field [3]. The slave cabins was considered the home of the planation for the slaves. Within the slave cabins, slaves were removed from the surveillance and abhorrent treatment of their owners. The slave cabin was embedded with culture, filled with celebrations, the creation of healing potions, prayers, passing of traditions and genealogy [3]. The mothers would cook and tend to their own children. Outside of the cabin, stood the fear of being sold, leading to the separation of families. To find out more information the life of family and children during the era of slavery :

  1. Religion

Religion during the era of slavery was both visible and invisible, formally organized and spontaneously adapted [4]. Slaves were unable to freely worship their God. The slaves often held prayer gatherings in the cabin or far out in the woods, to prevent severe punishment if caught. The slave owners had their own minister that would come to the planation and hold a service. The slaves did not connect with the sermon, as it often preached about obeying their slave masters, and not stealing or causing any trouble [4]. Baptist was the religion of choice for the slaves, as they jumped, shouted and prayed for freedom. For more information on religion with the slave era :

  1. Education of Slaves, no paper, no pen, no education

Education for women within the era of slavery was scarce, as in certain states the right to write and read were forbidden for slaves, especially women. Slaves were not allowed to carry writing utensils and paper [8]. Anyone who sought out to teach a slave would be punished and fined [8]. However, there were brave teachers who went against the law and held night school sessions for the education of slaves. Slave owners feared that education would interfere with the economic aspect of slavery [5]. However, they did believe that education would infinitely make the slaves more profitable during slave auctions but the fear of abolition, deferred the idea. Women learned through oral directions, rituals and kinship groups [5]. On several plantations, slaves were required to understand specific parts of the Christian bible, as it reinforced slavery and the idea of being a good and dutiful slave.  To learn more about women education during slavery visit :

  1. Occupation of Slave Women

Slave women had various occupations throughout the plantation. There were women within domestic positions, such as washer women, wet nurses, cooks, servants to the children and house wenches [6].Many women with domestic positions were subject to emotional, physical and sexual abuse by masters, mistresses and male slaves [6]. Women who worked within home, interacted often with the master. This led to rapes and children born to enslaved African American women and a free white man. The women who worked inside the home were often subjected to concubinage, becoming concubine to their owners. House servants were also catering to the mistresses, sewing their clothing, dressing them, combing their hair and nursing their children [6]. House servants were usually on call whenever needed. The women slaves who were occupied within the agricultural positions, cultivated silk, rice and cotton through the fields [6]. Human zoos were also considered an “occupation” for African American women. Women displayed nudity, scenarios and costumes, concealed in cages for the entertainment of others [9]. For more information on the various women occupations during slavery visit :

For more information regarding the human zoos visit :


  1. Acts of Freedom & Feminism during an anti-woman & anti-black era

During the suffrage and hardship, there were many African American women slaves fighting for the empowerment and freedom of women. The empowerment and suffrage of women during the era of slavery is often undisclosed. Repeatedly, it is information about African American males during slavery, it is uncommon to hear about women such as Sojourner Truth, a women of color, born into slavery, who fought for women rights and joined a campaign for female suffrage [7]. After slavery was abolished she continued to fight to end segregation. Harriet Tubman, a fearless women, as she freed many slaves through the underground railroad, putting her life in danger, for the freedom of others. Maria W. Steward a free black, was the first to address women and men of a public audience, as she spoke against slavery [7].Sarah Mapp Douglass, an abolitionist, one of the founding members of the bi-racial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, while also operating a free school for black children and adults in the state of New York [7].

  1. Other Resources



[1] Morgan, Molly. “ The Women of the Middle Passage: A Story of Resistance”

[2] Carlton- LaNey, Iris, et al. “ Sitting with the Stick” African American Women’s Philanthropy.

[3] Williams. A, Heather. “ How Slavery Affected African American Families”

[4] Raboteau, Albert. “The Secret Religion of Slaves”

[5] McMillian, Shirley. “Slavery, Education and Upward Mobility”

[6] Ramey, Daina. “Slave Women”

[7] Presley, Sharon. “Black Women Abolitionists and the Fight for Freedom in the 19th Century

[8] Simkin, John. “Education of Slaves”

[9] David, M.B. “Deep Racism: The Forgotten History of Human Zoos”


Kemi Pollock is a senior at Old Dominion University. She majors in Speech Pathology, and she plans to continue her education with speech into her Masters. She currently holds many leadership positions on campus, as well as being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Incorporated. She enjoys shopping, reading, and eating! She also enjoys self-love, which includes anything that will make her healthy and happy, including spending her time having good laughs with  genuine people!