Book Review Archives

Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory

By: Kimberly Wallace-Sanders
Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen
University of Michigan Press, 2008
$40, Hardcover

Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory presents an in-depth analysis of the various myth, fiction, history, and other embodiments of the mammy characters between the 1820s and 1935. Kimberly Wallace-Sanders probes the images and themes immortalized in American literary and cultural imagination that continue to have a provocative hold on the American psyche. This book engages questions asked time and time again: Who is this mammy? What does she reveal about race and the American culture? Why do portraits of her insist she preferred white children to her own? How did she become a central figure in our understanding of slavery, gender, motherhood, and the American South? According to Wallace-Sanders, the earliest use of the word “mammy” occurred in 1810 in reference to slave women caring for white children, but it is not linked to specific patterns of behavior until 1820.

In Chapter 3, the Aunt Jemima advertisements are discussed in the spirit of the antebellum South. Other examples are Andy Warhol, who included Mammy, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Sam, and Howdy Doody in his series American Myths. Also restored antebellum homes in Lancaster, Kentucky, feature “mammy beach,” which allowed mammies to nurse and rock more than one infant at the same time.

The book’s illustrations trace representations of the mammy figure from the nineteenth century to the present as depicted in book illustrations, kitchen figurines, advertising, and dolls. This engaging book will most appeal to persons interested in American studies, African American studies, and women’s studies. June 2009

Linda A. McQueen is the Library Media Specialist at McNeel School-Vacca Campus DYS.