Emily J. Clark, Johns Hopkins University
MCEAS Consortium Fellow
“Laboring Bodies: Dispossessed Women and Reproduction in Colonial New England”
My dissertation explores the intimate lives and labors of enslaved, servant, and poor women in the New England colonies during the mid- seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The word “labor” denotes work as well as childbirth; both senses of the term affected women’s lives, bodies, and the ways in which they were understood by the broader culture. Court records, poor relief documents, journals, recipes, and popular print provide evidence for my analysis of women who were essential to the fabric of New England but have often been left out of the historical narrative. I argue that the bodies and behaviors of free and unfree laboring women were the locus for expansive cultural negotiation of the bounds of “proper” womanhood, sexuality, and the developing notions of race. In poor, enslaved, and dispossessed women’s interactions with patriarchal authorities, as well as with other women who acted as class and racial superiors, we see evidence of both oppression and everyday resistance as they challenged or reinforced dominant cultural narratives about the meanings of the female body.