Wednesday, February 9, 2011


During our recent blizzard here in the Midwest, I read Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 
I had come across it  at the bookstore and from the blurb on the back:

Situated in Ohio, a free territory before the Civil War, Tawawa House is an idyllic retreat for Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their enslaved black mistresses.  It's their open secret.

I was hooked!  The story sounded very interesting. But even more interesting was that at the end of the book, I read the Author's Note that reported that Tawawa Resort did actually exist.  As Ms. Perkins-Valdez stated, the resort was located near Xenia, Ohio.  It was opened in 1852, and was actually used as stated: for Southern white men to vacation with their slave/mistresses.  After it closed, it became the Ohio African University for several years, then was purchased by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became Wilberforce University.  As the author wrote, "it continues to be the nations' oldest, private, predominantly African American university. It is believed that the children of the unions between the slave women and the slaveholders were among the early students at the university."

The book is a fictionalized account of four black women who were slaves and were brought to the resort by their owners each summer for the years that the resort was open.  The story is a fascinating look at the years right before the Civil War broke out and how the women considered what it might mean to be free.  After all, while being there at the resort they were in Ohio, a free territory.  As events occur, the women are caught up in the tragedies that occur, and each have to consider what freedom would mean, both good and bad, for each of them.

The book is a fascinating look at pre-Civil War history.  It made me think of Beloved and The Help, with all being such important studies of our history and of great survival.

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