Gwen Ragsdale, affectionately referred to as “Raggs” by close friends is a first time author. It was her interest in American slavery; particularly slavery related to enslaved black women and white female slave owners that led to her writing “Peculiar Relationships”. Her role as a curator of Lest We Forget (LWF) Slavery Museum in Philadelphia, PA provided her with a direct connection to that period of history. The LWF museum houses an extensive, private collection of authentic iron slave shackles, Bill of Sale documents, Jim Crow objects and other related artifacts which her husband, J. Justin Ragsdale collected over several decades. Even though her general interest in slavery always was, it was further piqued while she was categorizing a group of iron shackles and came upon one that looked slightly different from the others. Not only was it smaller, lighter and despite its purpose, somewhat fancier. It also had an inscription on it: "For Use on a Negro Slave Woman or Small Child." She held the shackles in her hands for awhile trying to wrap her brain around the nuance of the words. She had never seen before or since a slave shackle assigned to a specific human being; let alone one exclusively intended for a female slave or child and found the notorious assignment disturbing.
When she initially began research for her book she was attempting to identify what life was like for enslaved black women. However, she kept running across documented accounts of complex relationships between black women and white women, forced and/or chosen. Her findings were surprising and at times even shocking. She aptly weaves thrilling and suspenseful, first-person narratives that reveal bold characters that tell their stories in a way that captivates a reader’s attention and imagination. Her fictional and semi-autobiographical book is the outcome of extensive, historic and contemporary research as well as her own personal experiences.
She spends much of her time conducting museum tours and coordinating a traveling slavery exhibit which she and her husband present at schools, universities, churches, family reunions, conferences and other venues around the country and abroad. Gwen is also a film documentarian, writing and producing two award winning films; Lest We Forget and My Slave Sister Myself. Both films have won national and international “Best Documentary” awards. Numerous institutions utilize her films as tried and proven teaching tools. She is a trained public speaker and highly touted for her down to earth, storytelling ability, humor and wit which she uses to captivate her audiences.
Gwen is the mother of 3 adult children; 2 sons and a daughter and grandmother of boy and girl twins, who are the love of her life. She unabashedly acknowledges her love of being a woman; specifically a black woman and earnestly believes in an ancestral connection to the millions of enslaved African women who came decades before and created a path; one paved of strength and endurance that keeps her mindful of her own inner strength. As a more than decade long breast cancer survivor she found strength to overcome the overwhelming fear when the horrible word cancer is mentioned in the same sentence with your name. As in the words of a Destiny’s Child's song; Gwen Ragsdale proves she is a true "Survivor.”