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June 9, 2020

22 Eerie Daguerreotypes of Black Nursemaids Holding White Children For a Photograph

The daguerreotype was the prevailing form of photography in America from 1839 until the late 1850s. Since the daguerreotype process did not involve a negative, each was a unique image.

In folklore the black nursemaid was seen as a dutiful, self-sacrificing black woman who loved her white family and its children every bit as much as her own. Yet the popular images of the loyal, contented black nursemaid, or “mammy,” were unfortunately far from the reality for the African-American women who worked in these homes.

The term ‘nursemaid’ has wide historical use, mostly related to servants charged with the actual care of children. In ancient usage the terms ‘nursemaid’ and ‘nurse’ are largely interchangeable. Everything that a parent ordinarily might do, especially the more onerous tasks, could be turned over to a nursemaid. Feeding very young children and supervising somewhat older children at meal times, seeing that the children are dressed properly, watching over the children as they play outside, and other such tasks could be left to a nursemaid.

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