|Date(s):||September 20, 1884|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
In Madison Parish, Louisiana, Miss Lu Lucas manages a large estate, and spends the greater part of her time in the saddle, wrote Harper's Bazaar in the Personal section on September 20, 1884. This excerpt, though very brief, is packed with information about women who lived in the Reconstruction era South. Most striking at first is that Luc Lucas was a Miss, that she was an unmarried woman who was operating a plantation. The fact that Lu was not married could have multiple explanations, but most likely Lu had inherited the estate from her father. It is possible that her father died a natural death at home, but it is also likely that he was killed or injured while fighting in the Civil War. As George C. Rable writes of Jane Turner Censer's book The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, 1865-1895, After the war, women increasingly inherited real property and served as executors of men's estates. So many Southern men had died during the Civil War, or were unable to manage a plantation when they returned home, so women were often responsible for taking over their families' estates. Rable goes on to include that Censer asserts in her work how marriage prospects declined for Southern women after the war, emphasizing that more young women apparently chose to remain single during this time. Whether Lu could not find a husband, or if she decided not to marry is not specified. However, it can be concluded that simply her ability to function in such a role of high status (that of operating an estate) proves that women in the South were beginning to step outside the lines that they had been previously been defined within.
The inclusion of Lu's short, simple biography in Harper's also reveals that her lifestyle was accepted. Before the war, white Southern women were often confined to domestic chores and occupations; but with Lu's story, it seems that women's lives were expanding in that they were now recognized as capable of running an estate. That this position was socially acknowledged shows that the role of women in the south was changing dramatically after the Civil War.
Lastly, the mention of Lu's ability to spend a lot of time riding horses reveals that although she was managing a large estate, she still had a great deal of spare time. That Lu owned horses for sport and pleasure means that not only was she the proprietor of her own land, but also that she was wealthy and active enough to partake in leisurely entertainment venues.
Even though the larger details of Lu's life are unknown, the information found in this short passage and its broader implications show a great deal about how women's positions and roles in society were changing during Reconstruction. Along with many other members of their society, women were experimenting with their notions of self during Reconstruction.