Rebecca Fraser

Rebecca Fraser


  • 2.09 Registry And Council House

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Personal profile


My research is primarily concerned with the ways in which discourses of gender, race and sexuality were articulated and interacted in the context of nineteenth century America.

My most recent project concerns Black Female Intellectuals in early nineteenth century America. Born to Bloom Unseen? Black Female Intellectuals in early 19th Century America (currently in progress) offers an interdisciplinary analysis to explore individual black women’s active contributions to the public discourses of early 19th century America. Drawing on letters and personal testimony, works of art, novels, and historic black newspapers, will reconceptualize the idea of what is meant by the term "intellectual" to bring those who have previously been excluded from the scholarship of black intellectualism more generally, and black female intellectuals specifically, into the center of the debate. 

Those who I explore in Born to Bloom Unseen? are a diverse group of black women whose entry into the national arena was sometimes unintended, relatively unnoticed, and faded from the historical record relatively quickly. These were women like the formerly enslaved quilt artist, Harriet Powers, whose work has been typically catalogued under “folk-art” and removed from considerations of the intellectual. It also includes women such as Laura Simmes, Lizzie Hart, Amanda Turpin, and Julia C. Collins, - all women who contributed to the black newspaper The Christian Recorder during the Civil War. These women wrote as mothers, daughters, lovers, but, more importantly, they wrote as black women themselves, stealing time away from the labors of life to pen their thoughts to the Recorder on meaningful and important political concerns. The two Edmonia’s – Lewis and Highgate – one a teacher (Highgate) working in the field as an activist educating freedpeople and their children; the other, Lewis, a sculptor, whose many beautiful works produced in Rome have been “lost” and her omission from black intellectual histories is both unexplained and unexplored in previous work.    

 Other black female intellectuals the project considers are arguably better known in specific academic fields and popular culture. Abolitionist and feminist activist, author, and journalist, Frances E. W. Harper, formerly enslaved author and activist Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman for example sit alongside America’s first black female political writer, Maria W. Stewart, and first black female editor of a newspaper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary. While these women may be more familiar to certain audiences the book situates them within modes of representation and performance, reflecting on contemporary audience reception to these overtly political black women.  

I am also Primary Investigator for the AHRC-funded network, "Black Female Intellectuals in the Historical and Contemporary Context."  This network brings together scholars, both early career (including PhD students) and more established academics, working on black female intellectuals in the black Atlantic including Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The key point of the network is to share interdisciplinary understandings of black female intellectuals from both historical and contemporary perspectives thinking through different questions. The network has organised several workshops and public events including "In Conversation" sessions with Prof Barbara Savage (Penn); playwright and broadcaster, Bonnie Greer OBE; and Prof Shirley Anne Tate (Alberta). Prof Patricia Williams (NorthEastern) also delivered a public lecture for the network. For further details see the project website at

 My previous projects have included a focus on transitional gender identity in nineteenth century America and intimate relationships among enslaved people. The former work focussed on Sarah Hicks Williams, a middle class woman born and raised in New Hartford, New York, who, in 1853, married Benjamin Williams, a physician and slaveholder from Greene County, North Carolina. Sarah relocated to Benjamin’s plantation following their honeymoon to take on the role of plantation mistress to the 37 or so enslaved peoples there. The monograph, Gender, Race and Family in Nineteenth Century America: From Northern Woman to Plantation Mistress (Palgrave MacMillan: November 2012) concerns Sarah’s experiences of transition: from North to South; “true woman” to “southern lady”; single young woman to wife and mother. It is a story of the shifting nature of antebellum identity, yet calls into question the regional differences that were said to have existed between gender ideals of the “free North” and the “slave South” in this era. As a consequence of this research and in collaboration with Norfolk’s Black History Month Celebrations in October 2012 an exhibition of several of Sarah’s letters and a related series of Public Lectures and Café Conversations was held at the Millennium Library, Norwich: see

The latter work (based on my PhD research at the University of Warwick) explored the emotional lives of enslaved couples in antebellum North Carolina.  The project situates courtship and love among the enslaved as central to shaping thier everyday lives. It also reflects on practices of courtship as a form of resistance for the enslaved. Courtship and Love among the Enslaved in North Carolina, was published in 2007 with the University Press of Mississippi. I have also published a co-edited collection concerning the era of Reconstruction with ABC Clio in 2008 as part of their “Perspectives in American History Series”.


Fraser, Rebecca (2012) Gender, Race and Family in Nineteenth Century America: From Northern Woman to Plantation Mistress. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Fraser, Rebecca (2008) Reconstruction: People and Perspectives. ABC-CLIO; 1 edition . ISBN 9781598840216

Fraser, Rebecca (2007) Courtship and Love Among the Enslaved in North Carolina. University Press of Mississippi, p. 137. ISBN 1934110078


Fraser, Rebecca (2020) “ ‘Why sit ye here and Die’? [Maria W. Stewart, 1832]: The Counter-Hegemonic Histories of the Black Female Intellectual in Nineteenth Century America," Journal of American Studies, 

Fraser, Rebecca (2018) ‘I Must Speak, I Must Think, I Must Act.’ [Laura Simmes, 1864] The Christian Recorder, Literary Activism, and the Black Female Intellectual.” Slavery and Abolition.

Fraser, Rebecca (2011) 'No more Sarah Hicks': A Reconfiguration of Antebellum Time and Space for an Elite White Woman. Slavery and Abolition, 32 (2). pp. 213-226. ISSN 0144-039x/ 1743-9523

Fraser, Rebecca (2005) Courtship Contests and the Meaning of Conflict in the Folklore of Slaves. Journal of Southern History, 71 (4). pp. 769-802.

Fraser, Rebecca (2004) Goin' Back Over There to See That Girl: Competing Spaces in the Social World of the Enslaved in Antebellum North Carolina. Slavery and Abolition, 25 (1). pp. 94-113.

Book Section

Lets us Begin Life Anew, and Learn to Live in Earnest! (Julia C. Collins, “Life is Earnest”, Jan 7th 1865): Free Black Women and the Challenges of Freedom in the Civil War Era,” in The Civil War and Slavery Reconsidered: Negotiating the Peripheries edited by Laura Sandy and Marie Molly. New York and London: Routledge, 2019.

“Gender and the Home: Domestic Spaces and Families in Nineteenth Century America” in A Cultural History of the Home in the Age of Empire edited by Jane Hamlett. New York and London: Bloomsbury Press, 2020.

“Home and Belonging in Antbellum America: The Letters of Sarah Hicks Williams,” in The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing edited by Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman and Matthew Pethers. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

Fraser, Rebecca (2009) Negotiating their Manhood: Masculinity amongst the Enslaved in the Upper-South 1830-1860. In: Black and White Masculinity in the American South, 1800-2000. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 76-94. ISBN 9781443805964

Fraser, Rebecca (2008) The Meaning of Freedom for African American Men. In: Reconstruction, Perspectives in American Social History. ABC-CLIO; 1 edition, pp. 1-20. ISBN 9781598840216


External Activities

  • Member of British Association of American Studies
  • Member of British American Nineteenth Century Historians
  • Teaching Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Key Research Interests

My research is primarily concerned with the interaction and articulation of race, gender, and sexuality in nineteenth century America. I would be happy to take on research students working in the following areas: gender and sexuality in nineteenth century America; race in the nineteenth century America; history of enslavement on the North American mainland from colonial period to 1861; Civil War and Reconstruction with an emphasis on race and gender; historical biographies (with a particular emphasis on gender and race) in nineteenth century America; African American cultural and intellectual lives.


Born to Bloom Unseen? Black Female Intellectuals in Nineteenth century America.(currently in development following favourable reviews from University of South Carolina Press, Dec 2020)



Key Responsibilities

School Roles:

  • Athena Swan Lead (2019 - Present)
  • Director of Graduate Studies (Taught Postgraduate and Postgraduate Research): 2006 – 2011.
  • Senior Advisor (2007, semester II)

University Roles:

  • Faculty Director: Postgraduate (Taught Programmes), Aug 2012 – Present

Professional Activities

  • Society for the History of Women in the Americas, University of Reading. 5-6th July 2019Keynote: “Born to Bloom Unseen? Exploring the Marginalized Voices of Black Female Intellectuals in early 19th Century America.

  • Current Member of the AHRC Peer Review Panel
  • Invited speaker at Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association, Sydney, 2008

  • Recipient of the Arthur Miller Prize for best journal length article for my piece, “Courtship Contests and The Meaning of Conflict in the Folklore of Slaves,” Journal of Southern History, 71:4 (Nov 2005), pp. 769-802.
  • Peer reviewer for the Journal of American Studies, American Nineteenth Century History, and Slavery and Abolition.

Areas of Expertise

Slavery in the US; gender and sexuality in 19th century America; race relations in the Reconstruction Period.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

External positions

External Member - Research Degree Committee, Courtauld Institute

13 Jul 2019 → …

External Examiner - Race and Resistance MA (History), University of Leeds

1 Mar 2018 → …