Exploring Women’s Agency in the City

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Women and Gender Seminar
Friday, January 25, 2013

3 pm to 5 pm

Panelists: Sharony Green, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Kyle Mays, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Freedom: ‘A Matter I Deserve to Have’: Constructions of Identity and the Fancy Girl”
Sharony Green, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In October 1838, Avenia White, an ex-slave woman living in Cincinnati, asked the man who had just freed her for financial assistance. Evidence suggests she was a “fancy girl,” an enslaved woman sold for use as a concubine or prostitute before the Civil War. Historians recognize that New Orleans teemed with such women. Less is known about how they settled in Cincinnati. This chapter explores how women like Avenia have been depicted in the popular imagination and argues that various depictions, including those that situate them as “tragic mulattoes,” emerge as overlapping stories about women who ultimately cannot be essentialized.

“ ‘My Name is Esther Mays and I am from Detroit’: Native American Women’s Activism in Detroit, 1973-1982”
Kyle Mays, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Detroit, Michigan is the prototypical representative of post-World War II Black activism, white flight, racial inequality, and urban decline (Sugrue, 1996). Still, Native Americans, in particular women, have largely been excluded from these histories. This essay concerns the experiences of indigenous women at the nexus between Black Power’s decline and Indian Self-Determination’s rise, and how they navigated the contested identities of race, gender, and indigeneity in Detroit. Through activism, they constructed an urban indigenous feminism.

Commentators: Lynn Hudson, Macalester College and Dawn Marsh, Purdue University

Cost and registration information: 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, e-mail the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org.  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.