The practices of abortion and infanticide seem worthy of at least a fleeting
mention in most studies of slave women in the United States, yet few
historians mention the use of contraception. Those who do, usually
conclude that little is known about the subject, but that it is probably not
particularly significant. This article will discuss the use of contraception
among slaves and will concentrate, in particular, on the use of cotton
roots as a form of birth-control. Evidence that the cotton root was used
for this purpose is taken mainly from the Works Progress Administration
(WPA) narratives, edited by George Rawick.
A thorough reading of the WPA narratives reveals not only that slave women used contraception, but also that it may have been very effective. In the context of slave women and work, this is a significant discovery, as the evidence, which is detailed below, suggests that slave women not only understood that their childbearing capacity was seen in terms of producing extra capital, but that they were sufficiently opposed to this function to actually avoid conception. The use of contraception can be seen not only as a form of resistance, but also, more specifically, as a form of strike, since reproduction was an important work role for most slave women.
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