Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia

Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia

Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia

Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia

Synopsis

Marital status was a fundamental and cultural feature of women's identity in the eighteenth century. Free women who were not married could own property and make wills, contracts, and court appearances, fights that the law of coverture prevented their married sisters from enjoying. Karin Wulf explores the significance of marital status in this account of unmarried women in Philadelphia, the largest city in the British colonies.

In a major act of historical reconstruction, Wulf draws upon sources ranging from tax lists, censuses, poor relief records, and wills, to almanacs, newspapers, correspondence, and poetry to recreate the daily experiences of women who were never-married, widowed, divorced, or separated. With its substantial population of unmarried women, eighteenth-century Philadelphia was much like other early modem cities, but it became a distinctive proving ground for cultural debate and social experimentation involving those women. Arguing that unmarried women shaped the city as much as it shaped,them, Wulf examines popular Literary representations of marriage, the economic hardships faced by women, and the decisive impact of a newly masculine public culture in the late colonial period.

Excerpt

Although much of the research for this book derives from my 1993 Johns Hopkins dissertation, the idea for the book has earlier origins and owes much to the inspiration of a handful of excellent teachers. I first started thinking about the historical and analytical problem of unmarried women when I was a student at American University in visiting professor Joan Hoff's seminar on women and the Constitution. Women's "status" was still very much occupying historians' attention in the mid‐ 1980s, and it struck me that it was specifically married women's status that was the subject of this scrutiny. Rather than focusing on coverture's effects on married women, I thought that examining those women who by law were not "covered," but who were very likely still restricted by the gendered ideals of submission and dependence associated with wives, would make a good study. I went to Johns Hopkins with a very different dissertation in mind, but I returned to the subject of unmarried women after an invigorating seminar on family and gender history with Toby Ditz. I especially want to thank my advisor, Jack P. Greene, for his willingness to be won over to the topic. I continue to value his model of scholarly energy, rigor, and productivity. I also want to thank my undergraduate mentor, now my colleague and friend, Roger Brown, who first taught me to love the eighteenth century and the historian's craft.

It is a very great pleasure to acknowledge the help and support of the many people and institutions who contributed to this project, including . . .

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