In nineteenth-century Cuba, patriarchy operated at all levels of society. Cuban elites prescribed the place of slaves and that of women. The idealized familial ordering, or the notion that elites benevolently governed society as a father did his family, provided a ready model for the maintenance of order. The male, father-figure occupied the highest position in the societal hierarchy, the female, mother-figure served as his "helpmate," and the children obeyed. Elites' children included their actual children as well as lower orders of Cuban whites, and blacks, both enslaved and free, child and adult. This work examines how patriarchy functioned outside the confines of the family unit by scrutinizing the theoretical foundation on which nineteenth-century Cuban patriarchy rested, and investigating how patriarchy functioned as a method of social control for elite and non-elite women, as well as the enslaved women of Cuba. Through an examination of family, marriage, divorce, public charity, and education, this study provides insight into the Caribbean's longest lasting slave society.
Over the last twenty years, scholars have increasingly recognized the important role of gender in the study of slavery in the Americas. However, gendered analysis of nineteenth-century Cuban slave society has yet to attract the same level of scholarly inquiry as have other Latin American nations. Based on a variety of archival and printed primary sources, my study illuminates how gender provides an important lens of analysis for nineteenth-century Cuban society. My project uses gender to examine nineteenth-century Cuban history in order to explore how patriarchy functioned in the lives of both white women and women of color. Moreover, it analyzes the social constructions of gender within the context of race and class. The study of gender implies a relational concept. Genderís social construction, for both men and women, means it cannot be studied in a female vacuum. The work focuses on women, although in order to understand them better I also examine the place of men. Notions of discourse and power provide insight into the social constructions of gender and further the analysis of women who have long been held at societyís margins.