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Levi Jordan
Plantation

THE DISCIPLINE OF SOCIAL CORSETS: NEGOTIATION OF THE GENDER TYPIFICATION OF THE SOUTHERN LADY BY FEMALE DESCENDANTS OF LEVI AND SARAH STONE JORDAN

by Mary Lynne Hill

(excerpt; page 7-14 from Chapter One)

This excerpt describes the general historical context in which Sallie wrote her diary, and begins to describe the theoretical point of view taken in the thesis.

 

Mary Lynne Hill

Sallie McNeill, Her Diary, and Her Descendants

Sallie McNeill composed her diary between 1858, while attending Baylor University in Independence, Texas, and 1867, while living at the beach in Texas. In the years she wrote, Sallie lived initially at Baylor until graduation in 1858, and then primarily at home, the Levi Jordan Plantation, in Brazoria, Texas, approximately 60 miles southeast of Houston. Neighboring plantations included the homes of the Mims and Rowe families. Sallie often wrote about members of these along with other families in her text. At the Jordan Plantation, Sallie, who never married, resided with several generations of her family: grandparents, Levi and Sarah Stone Jordan; mother, Emily Jordan McNeill; siblings, Calvin, Anne, Missie, Mollie, Charlie and Archie. Charlie and Anne also attended Baylor University shortly after Sallie completed her graduation at this institution.

By the time that Sallie commenced her diary, her father, James McNeill, and a brother, Levi Jordan, were already dead. By the time she completed her diary, her sisters, Missie and Mollie, had also both died. During the Civil War, her brothers, Charlie and Calvin, served as privates in Company C, Brown’s Regiment, Texas Volunteers, Confederate States of America (McNeill 1988) (37). According to the text, her grandfather Levi was clearly the patriarch and master of his 2222 acres. Emily, Levi and Sarah’s only child and Sallie’s mother, appeared to serve as the plantation mistress during the period of the diary’s production. It seemed that at this time, Grandmother Sarah was semi-retired from her role as mistress. The presence of the grandmother, mother, and daughter, who were all in the appropriate age range to enact the duties of plantation mistress, sometimes resulted in the proverbial danger of "too many cooks in the kitchen". Sallie’s struggle with her ambiguous status as an adult-child runs throughout her diary after her graduation from college.

The diary of Sallie McNeill represents a literary discourse from a particular social location, an aging – but still young – unmarried Southern Lady, within antebellum and Reconstruction Texas. It is a discursive space impregnated with the codes and forces as symbolized in the typification of The Lady which control female behavior in the Old South. However, the diary is also a site of subversive impulses as the author posit an on-going critique concerning some of the norms of The Lady typification and those who enact them in Sallie’s daily life. Discipline (Foucault 1975), as an overarching social corset, hovers over the totality of Sallie’s text. It permeated the personal continuum of Sallie’s life from internal thought processes to social relations within the family, to outward relations within a public realm whether at Baylor University, church, or in town. Her adherence to expected and promoted social behaviors associated with the gender typification of the Southern Lady is often unpredictable. Sallie consistently adhered to norms of politeness associated with her rank in her general, daily interactions with others. However, this adherence declined if politeness demanded attending parties or events in which she was uninterested, and ceased when she refused to marry. Her refusal to marry, despite social and familial pressures, is a strong break from the behaviors associated with the typification of The Lady. This decline in obligation fulfillment of the characteristics of The Lady typification is represented in graphic form below.

  GENERAL MANNERS >>>> SOCIAL INTERACTIONS >>>> MARRIAGE
ALWAYS FULFILLED INTERMITTENTLY FULFILLED REFUSED
An exploration of the behaviors which Sallie reflects and provides information in her diary, and the social understandings and structures which contextualize them, provided the foundation for questioning the role of the typification of the Southern Lady in the lives of living female descendants of Levi and Sarah Jordan. In this way, the current study has compared and contrasted the nineteenth century experiences of Sallie McNeill and those of her twentieth century descendants. Nine living descendants were interviewed regarding their upbringing in the Brazoria area and the influence of the image of the Southern Lady in their lives. Three generations are represented within this descendant group in order to be able to compare similarities and differences within the twentieth century, as well as between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Oral history interviews were conducted with five of the informants while written interviews via the mail were conducted with four more informants.

As stated previously, this study of the lives of these female descendants of Levi and Sarah Jordan represents a piece in a larger exploration of the story of the role of the Jordan Plantation in the history and development of the Brazoria area (Brown 1990; McDavid 1996; Wright 1994) (4, 12, 15). During the last decade, Dr. Kenneth L. Brown of the University of Houston has conducted an archaeological and historical investigation of the Levi Jordan Plantation. Archaeological investigation has centered on the slave and tenant quarters, occupied between 1848 and 1892, while historical investigations have traced antebellum plantation relationships within and between the African-American and Anglo populations into the present ear. Oral history research within the contemporary African-American community, whose members’ ancestors were slaves or tenants on this plantation, has been initiated (Wright 1994) (15). A feasibility study concerning the public interpretation of the site and the creation of the Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society, with a bi-racial board of plantation descendants (African-American and Anglo) and other community members, has recently been completed (McDavid 1996) (12). In the oral history interviews conducted with the female Jordan descendants, each informant was asked for her reflections on this previous research, and her vision for the future of this plantation and research concerning the site. Their responses to this question are presented in the concluding chapter of this document [and will be included on this web site in the future]. The interviews for this thesis provided these descendants with an anonymous forum to offer their opinion on a part of personal family history as it moves through the process of becoming publicly interpreted.

For the exploration of the data generated from these interviews, I fused theoretical concepts from several sources. The main theoretical concepts that serve as the basis for the format of this study are in bold when they are introduced in Chapter Two. These main concepts, adapted from Foucault’s ideas of discipline (1975) (39), are the following: internal overseer, creative power, political anatomy, rank, taxonomy, and enclosure. These concepts structured the data analysis portion of this study in Chapters Four through Nine. The theoretical approach also draws from Kopytoff’s definition of gender identity (1990) (40) and Strathern’s ideas concerning the symbolic negotiation of gender stereotypes (1981). For the critical reading of Sallie McNeill’s diary, questions from the literary approach of New Historicism were utilized (Greenblatt 1990) (42). Chapter Two provides a full discussion of the theoretical approach following the presentation of a literature review on the Southern Lady, the definition of her as a myth or gender typification versus her reality as flesh and blood, as shown in antebellum diaries like Sallie’s. By comparing the typification of The Lady with research on the actual lives of Southern women, the contradictions inherent within the typification are highlighted in this chapter and in the subsequent data analysis, demonstrating its instability as a static construct and as an analytical tool. Chapter Three offers of discussion of the methodologies employed in this project. Finally, following the data analysis of Chapters Four through Nine, Chapter Ten offers descendant reflections on the current state of the Levi Jordan Plantation, advice for young women of today, and possibilities for further research on Sallie McNeill’s diary, the descendant population, and the use of Foucauldian ideas within a Southern setting.

Because this thesis focuses on one gender typification, the Southern Lady, and its relationship with particular descendants of one family over several generations, many questions were raised that remain unanswered. Broad areas such as race, religion, and patriarchy are touch upon in the following document but only as to how they pertain to the evidence, within the diary and the interviews, surrounding the symbolic construct of the Southern Lady as viewed through the lens of Foucauldian discipline. Ultimately, it appeared that a broad Foucauldian disciplinary analysis of race, religion, patriarchy, and gender beyond the construct of The Lady would be productive. The disciplinary constructs are malleable and could be adapted to facilitate such studies. Also, each one of the six Foucauldian concepts that structure Chapters Four through Nine offers the potential for a much more particular and thorough exploration of the specific concept in relation not only to the Southern Lady, but to the other previously mentioned Southern Anglo gender typifications, as well as the Southern African-American gender typifications. Also, this thesis is focused on a personal level in that it reflects personal, and at times, extended familial, interpretations based on informant responses. As such, it does not claim to present a Brazoria area/ community response or interpretation of how the gender typification of the Southern Lady functioned or functions within this area at large. Instead, it is an individual and often a familial interpretation of how these particular women have managed their lives of, in spite of, or indifferent to the social corsets inherent within the gender typification of the Southern Lady.

   

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