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My Work among the Freedmen

The Civil War and Reconstruction Letters of Harriet M. Buss
Harriet M. Buss. Edited by Jonathan W. White and Lydia J. Davis

BUY Ebook · 244 pp. · ISBN 9780813946641 · $29.50 · Nov 2021
BUY Cloth · 244 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813946634 · $39.50 · Nov 2021

Between 1863 and 1871, Harriet M. Buss of Sterling, Massachusetts, taught former slaves in three different regions of the South, in coastal South Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina. A white, educated Baptist woman, she initially saw herself as on a mission to the freedpeople of the Confederacy but over time developed a shared mission with her students and devoted herself to training the next generation of Black teachers.

The geographical and chronological reach of her letters is uncommon for a woman in the Civil War era. In each place she worked, she taught in a different type of school and engaged with different types of students, so the subjects she explored in her letters illuminate a remarkably broad history of race and religion in America. Her experiences also offer an inside perspective of the founding of Shaw University, an important historically Black university. Now available to specialists and general readers alike for the first time, her correspondence offers an extensive view of the Civil War and Reconstruction era rarely captured in a single collection.

A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era


Buss’s letters provide a fascinating look into the experiences of Northern women teaching in the Reconstruction South. That she returned again and again, to different locations, teaching at different sorts of schools, and that her letters demonstrate genuine interest in and commitment to the welfare and future of freedpeople makes this collection an invaluable resource for scholars and a pleasure for readers.

Michael T. Bernath, University of Miami, author of Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South

Harriet Buss’s work proved more than a novel adventure undertaken by some missionaries. While other white women typically lasted one season, Buss persisted. By bridging race, gender, and region, she helped to lay the foundation for African American public schools and present-day Shaw University. Her letters also reveal the real challenges posed by the Ku Klux Klan and Southern white derailers of Reconstruction as well as the failure of federal leadership. This compelling collection of letters reintroduces readers to Harriet Buss as a significant interlocutor for understanding the motivations, experiences, and achievements of white Northern women who labored on the Southern educational frontier.

From the foreword by Hilary Green, University of Alabama, author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865–1890

About the Author(s): 

Jonathan W. White is Associate Professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University and author and editor of twelve books, including Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War. Lydia J. Davis is a history educator at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia..

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