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Wages of Intimacy: Domestic Workers Disputing Wages in the Higher Courts of Nineteenth-Century Brazil*

  • Henrique Espada Lima (a1) (a2)
Abstract

Exploring the legal context and arguments put forth by women who sued for their wages, this article illustrates how contested definitions of “work” and “intimacy” played a fundamental role in the arguments that both domestic workers and those whom they challenged in court made. It discusses a sample of legal complaints concerning labor arrangements (specifically, wage contracts, or contratos de soldada) from the Brazilian National Archives involving women working in the households of single men or widowers in nineteenth-century Brazil. Brought by both former slaves and Portuguese immigrants and other “free” women, domestic workers advanced demands for compensation, claiming wages and entitlements that clearly defined their connection to their masters as “work,” even when personal intimacy and sex were also present. The article also considers the place occupied by “free” domestic work in a slave society, relating it to the changing legal and social context of nineteenth-century Brazil.

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The author would like to thank the editors of this special issue, Eileen Boris and Premilla Nadasen, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. I'm especially thankful to Amy Chazkel, who not only read and discussed the article, but also helped with extended revisions and translations.

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NOTES

1. On the limitations of simplified models of social and racial classification in Brazil, see Sílvia Hunold Lara, Fragmentos Setecentistas. Escravidão, Cultura e Poder na América Portuguesa (São Paulo, 2007); and Zephyr Frank, Dutra's World. Wealth and Family in Nineteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro (Albuquerque, NM, 2004).

2. The main courts of appeal in Rio de Janeiro during the period studied in this article are the Tribunal da Relação do Rio de Janeiro and the Supremo Tribunal de Justiça. Both were created by the 1824 Constitution, rearticulating previous and similar colonial judicial courts. The former was the court of appeal for central, southeastern, and southern provinces. The latter, known as the “Supremo” (the national Supreme Court), dealt with constitutional issues and was responsible for revising the decisions of all the country's courts of appeal.

3. The Constitution and the Criminal Codes partially replaced the older Philippine Ordinances that were the main source of legislation in colonial and early independent Brazil. Without the promulgation of a civil code (that occurred only in 1916), however, the old Philippine code was still valid and used as a source of private civil law. See Keila Grinberg, “Slavery, Liberalism, and Civil Law: Definitions of Status and Citizenship in the Elaboration of the Brazilian Civil Code (1855–1916),” in Honor, Status, and the Law in Modern Latin America, ed. Sueann Caulfield, Sarah Chambers, and Lara Putnam (Durham, NC, 2005), 109–130.

4. On labor contracts and litigation involving the Brazilian free poor in the nineteenth century, see Neves, Erivaldo, “Sertanejos que se Venderam. Contratos de Trabalho Sem Remuneração ou Escravidão Dissimulada?Afro-Ásia 19/20 (1997): 239–50; Lima, Henrique Espada, “Freedom, Precariousness, and the Law: Freed Persons Contracting out their Labour in Nineteenth-Century Brazil,International Review of Social History 54 (2009): 391416 ; Joseli Mendonça, “Os Juízes de Paz e o Mercado de Trabalho—Brasil, Século XIX” in Diálogos Entre Direito e História, ed. Gladys S. Ribeiro, Edson A. Neves, and Maria de Fátima C. M. Ferreira. (Niterói, 2009), 238–55.

5. See Sônia Roncador, Domestic Servants in Literature and Testimony in Brazil 1889–1900 (New York, 2014); and Maciel Carneiro da Silva, “Domésticas criadas entre textos e práticas sociais: Recife e Salvador (1870–1910)” (Ph.D. diss., Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2011).

6. A direct full-access to the Judiciary Collection (Acervo Judiciário do Arquivo Nacional) database catalogue can be found at the internet in the following address: http://www.an.gov.br/Basedocjud/MenuDocJud/MenuDocJud.php

7. Manuela C. Cunha, “Sobre os silêncios da lei: lei costumeira e positiva nas alforrias de escravos no Brasil do século XIX” in Antropologia do Brasil Mito, história, etnicidade, ed. Manuela C. Cunha (São Paulo, 1986), 123–44; Sidney Chalhoub, Visões de liberdade. Uma história das últimas décadas da escravidão na Corte (São Paulo, 1990).

8. On the intellectual validity of a microanalytical approach, see Davis, Natalie Z., “The Possibilities of the Past,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 12 (1981), 267–75; Scott, Rebecca, “Reclaiming Gregoria's Mule: The Meanings of Freedom in the Arimao and Caunao Valleys, Cienfuegos, Cuba, 1880–1899,Past and Present 170 (2001): 181216 ; Giovanni Levi, “Microhistory and the Recovery of Complexity,” in Historical Knowledge in Quest of Theory, Method and Evidence, ed. S. Fellman and M. Rahikainen (Newcastle, 2012), 123–32.

9. “Título XXIX, Do criado, que vive com o senhor a bem fazer, e como se lhe pagará o serviço,” in Ordenações Filipinas, volume 4, ed. Cândido Mendes de Almeida (Rio de Janeiro, 1870).

10. Lei de 13 de Setembro de 1830 sobre a locação de serviços and Lei n. 108, de 11 de Outubro de 1837. See Lima, Henrique Espada, “Trabalho e Lei para os Libertos na Ilha de Santa Catarina no Século XIX: Arranjos e Contratos entre a Autonomia  e a Domesticidade,Cadernos AEL 14.26 (2010): 135–75.

11. Apelação Cível. Apelante Manoel Joaquim Pinheiro e apelada Rita Maria da Conceição. Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Fundo Tribunal da Relação do Rio de Janeiro (84), Apelação Cível, No. 7621, Maço 7, Mariana (MG), 1830–834.

12. In the nineteenth century, the unit of Brazilian currency was the mil réis (written as 1$000), divided in a thousand réis. One thousand mil réis (written as 1:000$000) was called conto de réis. Brazilian prices varied a great deal during the period covered in this research. According to Zephyr Frank, one conto de réis was worth about 580 U.S. dollars in 1850 (Frank, Dutra's World, xv). In lists of goods presented as evidence of debts in postmortem inventories, we can find some clues about living costs and prices. An 1853 postmortem inventory in the southern Brazilian city of Desterro, for instance, listed prices of dry goods, such as jerked beef (1 kilo for about 256 réis) and bacon (1 kilo for about 320 réis); Inventário. Inventariado: Padre João Antonio de Carvalho, Museu do Judiciário Catarinense; Juizo de Órfãos da Cidade do Desterro (non-catalogued), Maço 19, no. 27, 1853: 38, 62v.

13. The value of the work performed by rented slaves probably was the most accurate standard for wages paid to free workers. For data about slaves rental prices and nominal income for unskilled workers, see Frank, Dutra's World, 99–100.

14. On the customary practice of concubinage in colonial Minas Gerais, see Renato Pinto Venâncio, “Nos limites da sagrada família: Ilegitimidade e concubinato no Brasil Colonial,” In História e Sexualidade no Brasil, ed. Ronaldo Vainfas (Rio de Janeiro, 1986); and Junia Furtado, Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 2009).

15. Apelação Cível. Apelante Damazo da Costa Pacheco e apelada Francisca Perpétua Bernardina de Azevedo. Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Fundo Tribunal da Relação do Rio de Janeiro (84), Apelação Cível, N. 2899, Maço 218, Rio de Janeiro, 1833–1836.

16. The General Public Depository was an institution with a judicial function where two types of objects were stored: objects whose possession was under dispute, and those being held as collateral in a judicial contest over money or property. Money, merchandise, real estate, animals, and even slaves could be held in the Public Depository. The individual who oversaw this institution, called the Depositário, held responsibility for its maintenance and for the eventual restitution to a legitimate owner (or sale at a public auction) of the items (and sometimes persons) stored there. The person appointed as Depositário would also have to care for and feed the slaves held there.

17. Apelação Cível. Apelante Damazo da Costa Pacheco: 5.

18. The black population was nonetheless certainly the main target of the police. About the relationship between Rio de Janeiro's law enforcement and the poor, see Thomas H. Holloway, Policing Rio de Janeiro. Repression and Resistance in a 19th-Century City (Stanford, 1993).

19. On female entrepreneurship in nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro, see Kari Elaine Zimmerman, “Women of Independent Means: Female Entrepreneurs and Propriety Owners in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1869–1904” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 2009). On this same topic elsewhere in Latin America, see Christine Hunefeldt, Liberalism in the Bedroom: Quarrelling Spouses in Nineteenth-Century Lima (University Park, PA, 2000); Marie Eileen Francois, A Culture of Everyday Credit. Housekeeping, Pawnbroking, and Governance in Mexico City, 1750–1920 (Lincoln, NE, 2006).

20. Apelação Cível. Apelante Damazo da Costa Pacheco: 89.

21. Ibid., 61.

22. On the changing legal context and the labor question in nineteenth-century Brazil, see Lima, “Trabalho e lei para os libertos,” and Henrique Espada Lima, “Unpayable Debts: Reinventing Bonded Labour Through Legal Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Brazil,” in Debt and Slavery in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Worlds, ed. Alessandro Stanziani and Gwyn Campbell (London, 2013), 123–32.

23. Revista Cível entre partes. Recorrente a Fazenda Nacional e recorrida Maria Theresa da Conceição, Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (AN-RIO), Fundo Supremo Tribunal de Justiça (BU), Revista Cível, No. 3869, Caixa 1645, Galeria A, Bananal (SP), 1857–1858.

24. Ibid., 21–21v.

25. Ibid., 13–13v.

26. Crioulo described Brazilian-born slaves (as opposed to those born in Africa).

27. Revista Cível entre partes. Recorrente a Fazenda Nacional e recorrida Maria Theresa da Conceição.

28. Ibid., 32.

29. Araújo (1813–1878) was already an important statesman and would serve two more terms as Minister of Justice. See Joaquim Nabuco, Um estadista do Império: Nabuco, suas vida, suas opiniões, sua época (Rio de Janeiro, 1899).

30. Revista Cível entre partes, Recorrente a Fazenda Nacional e recorrida Maria Theresa da Conceição: 58.

31. Ibid., 71.

32. Apelação Cível. Apelante Damazo da Costa Pacheco e apelada Francisca Perpétua Bernardina de Azevedo. Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Fundo Tribunal da Relação do Rio de Janeiro (84), Apelação Cível, N. 2899, Maço 218, Rio de Janeiro, 1833–1836: 90.

33. The comparison between the slaves and Francisca Bernardina's condition is part of her lawyer's argument; Ibid., 135.

34. Libelo Cível. Autora Anna Maria de Jesus e Réu José J. Gonçalves Maia. Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (AN-RIO), Fundo Tribunal da Relação do Rio de Janeiro (84). Libelo Cível. No. 2587, Caixa 157, Galeria C, Rio de Janeiro, 1878–1880.

35. Ibid., 16–17.

36. Ibid., 13.

37. And her attorney says so in his reply to the counterclaim (Ibid., 16).

38. Compared with other legal contexts in the Americas, Brazilian law protected female ownership, inside and outside the marriage, granting them an important “stake in public dealings.” Cf. Graham, Sandra L., “Making the Private Public: A Brazilian Perspective,Journal of Women's History 15 (2003): 31.

39. For a more complete discussion about the notion of “sexual contract” employed here, see Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, CA, 1988). On contract law and its relations to gender, see Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage, and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation (Cambridge, MA, 1998).

40. Apelação Cível. Apelante do Juizo e apelada Rosa Francisca Pereira. Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (AN-RIO), Fundo Tribubal da Relação do Rio de Janeiro, Apelação Cível, No. 2319, Maço 2292, Parahyba do Sul (RJ), 1877, 2–2v.

41. Testimony of Antonio José Paulino, Idem, 19v.

42. See Lima, “Trabalho e lei para os libertos.”

43. About the “Free Womb Law” (Law n. 2040) and its consequences on the relation between masters and slaves in Brazil, see Chalhoub, Visões da liberdade.

44. Lima, “Freedom, Precariousness, and the Law”; Telles, Libertas entre Sobrados: Mulheres negras e trabalho doméstico em São Paulo (São Paulo, 2014); and Marilia Ariza, “O Ofício da Liberdade: Contratos de locação de serviços e trabalhadores libertandos em São Paulo e Campinas (1830–1888)” (Masters thesis, Universidade de São Paulo, 2012).

45. Sandra L. Graham, House and Street. The Domestic World of Servants and Masters in Nineteenth Century Rio de Janeiro (Cambridge, 1988), and “Making the Private Public.” On the laws regulating domestic servants in different parts of Brazil, see also: Lima,  “Trabalho e lei para os libertos”; Flávia F. de Souza, “Para Casa de Família e Mais Serviços: o trabalho doméstico na cidade do Rio de Janeiro no final do século XIX” (Masters Thesis, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, 2009); Ana Paula de Amaral Costa, “Criados de servir: estratégias de sobrevivência na cidade do Rio Grande 1880–1894” (Masters thesis, Universidade Federal de Pelotas, 2013).

46. A similar point was made by Hunefeldt about lower-class women in 19th-century Peru (Hunefeldt, Liberalism in the Bedroom, 7).

* The author would like to thank the editors of this special issue, Eileen Boris and Premilla Nadasen, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. I'm especially thankful to Amy Chazkel, who not only read and discussed the article, but also helped with extended revisions and translations.

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