The vast majority of Southern women worked. About three-quarters of all white Southern families did not own slaves on the eve of the Civil War, and consequently women in these families generally shared with black women the necessity of working. Whatever else may have divided them, and there was much, black and white women regularly toiled in the fields to produce goods for the market and for the dinner table, they worked in the home caring for children and occasionally producing handicrafts and in urban areas, as this essay will demonstrate, they pursued a variety of wage-earning occupations. As Stephanie McCurry has demonstrated, this was true in some slaveholding families as well. It was the work of the wives that helped to secure the economic independence of yeoman households in coastal South Carolina, even those owning up to ten slaves. Only a small number of elite white women in the South enjoyed the leisured lifestyle popularized in twentieth-century mythology
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