sixth plate daguerreotype
3 ¼ x 2 ¾ in. (8.26 x 6.99 cm)
Private collection. Artwork in the public domain.
In this photograph, an African American nanny, who herself is just a child, is posed with a white toddler who moves away. The tension between the two subjects is immortalized through the daguerreotype. Taken in the United States, this photograph demonstrates the widespread use of African American and Black women to care for white families and their children. Young girls, seen in this image, were commonly used for domestic service inside the enslaver’s home, which could include caring for children. Oftentimes, adult women had children and families of their own to care for in addition to their obligations to the enslaver’s family. Historian Marcus Wood suggests that one-fifth of white women relied on enslaved women for wet-nursing. Although there are few extant records of the lives of these enslaved caretakers, their roles were documented through portraits commissioned of their white charges.