An Intimate Economy

Enslaved Women, Work, and America's Domestic Slave Trade

By Alexandra J. Finley

200 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 4 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6135-3
    Published: August 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5511-6
    Published: August 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5512-3
    Published: July 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5712-5
    Published: July 2020

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Alexandra Finley adds crucial new dimensions to the boisterous debate over the relationship between slavery and capitalism by placing women's labor at the center of the antebellum slave trade, focusing particularly on slave traders' ability to profit from enslaved women's domestic, reproductive, and sexual labor. The slave market infiltrated every aspect of southern society, including the most personal spaces of the household, the body, and the self. Finley shows how women’s work was necessary to the functioning of the slave trade, and thus to the spread of slavery to the Lower South, the expansion of cotton production, and the profits accompanying both of these markets.

Through the personal histories of four enslaved women, Finley explores the intangible costs of the slave market, moving beyond ledgers, bills of sales, and statements of profit and loss to consider the often incalculable but nevertheless invaluable place of women's emotional, sexual, and domestic labor in the economy. The details of these women's lives reveal the complex intersections of economy, race, and family at the heart of antebellum society.

About the Author

Alexandra Finley is assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh.
For more information about Alexandra J. Finley, visit the Author Page.


“Finley’s focus is always squarely on the women themselves … An Intimate Economy will find interested readers not just among historians, but also sociologists, advocates, and policymakers seeking to understand and remedy economic inequity, both past and present.” – H-Early-America

An Intimate Economy is an engaging and accessible narrative. . . . Finley carefully and brilliantly connects scholarships of slavery, capitalism and women’s studies. . . [and] does such a wonderful job of explaining her use of sources and method, while telling very compelling stories.” --Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

“[Finley] adds significantly to the works of scholars of slavery and capitalism…but she also continues the work of historians who have sought to recover women’s experiences and thus alter the stories we tell in fundamental ways…Finley has done important work.” – Journal of Southern History

“Finley deserves credit for choosing to highlight arguably one of the historically most oppressed groups. Instead of focusing on their oppression, she looks at what they contributed in terms of economic, social and emotional labor but also, under the most dire circumstances, at their small acts of resistance which can inspire all of us who are fighting for a better future.” –Against the Current

“A deeply researched and nuanced study. . . . Overall, a significant achievement.” --Coordinating Council for Women in History

"For far too long histories of the slave market, the domestic slave trade, and their connection to American capitalism have privileged the lives and experiences of men. Not so with Alexandra Finley’s An Intimate Economy. Finley shows us that women were more than acted upon in the market; they were actively engaged in activities that supported and even shaped the contours of the market itself. An intimate Economy heeds the call of feminist scholars from across disciplinary boundaries to produce careful analyses which foreground the contributions of free and enslaved women in studies about the market, especially the economy of American slavery, and Finley has done exactly that. Alexandra Finley’s book transforms what we thought we knew about the roles free and enslaved women played in the markets of American slavery."--Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, author of They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South