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Marie Jenkins Schwartz

Marie Jenkins Schwartz

    Title: History Professor

    Expertise: Slavery; Southern Society; Gender; American History

Have you seen the movie Lincoln? Do you think it tells the whole story? When Marie Jenkins Schwartz watched Lincoln, she kept a close eye on some of the most important characters – the First Lady, Mary, and the slaves. The URI professor of history has spent years studying the ins and outs of slavery in America.

In fact, some people have called Professor Schwartz a midwife to history. Through her research and writings, she’s delivered new information about the history of midwifery and the introduction of medical men into the management of slave childbirths from 1820-60. Her first book, Born in Bondage: Growing Up Enslaved in the Antebellum South (Harvard Press, 2000) used historic records, letters and more to recreate a slave’s progression from conception to birth. Her second book, Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South (Harvard Press, 2006) focused exclusively on the health care of enslaved women.

Reactions to Lincoln have shown the nation’s continued interest in the lives and experiences of our forefathers.

“There seems to be a need in this country to believe our founders were upstanding moral people and in many ways they were. But eight of the first 12 presidents owned slaves,” she said. “You have to look at the ethics of holding people in bondage. The founders did not break the law. Slavery was legal. And these slaves were a daily presence in the lives of each of their first ladies.

“My next book will be a personal story about the Washington, Jefferson, and Madison women and their slaves, but it will also be about a history of our nation. We don’t have a complete picture of slavery without learning their stories,” she said.

Professor Schwartz says that as a graduate student when she learned that half of the four million slaves who lived in the South on the event of the Civil War were under 16 years old, she invariably became interested in slavery, family, and the United States in the 19th Century.

It’s a rich story that still demands her attention, and ours, several decades later.

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