The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860

The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860

The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860

The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860

Excerpt

The women of Petersburg would have been surprised at the suggestion that someone might want to write their history. Not one of them was famous in her own time. Most of them centered their lives on making a home, some of them on making a living--not the stuff history was made of then. Could they have known that their historian would base their story on the humdrum details that the court clerk wrote into the public record books, they probably would have been more surprised. One hopes they would also have been at least a little bit curious.

This book grows out of two major concerns. One is women's status--how it changed, and why. The other is the search for a women's culture, an attempt to find out whether women acted from a set of attitudes and values different from those held by men. Both concerns are central to the history of women, and on both counts, intensive study of local records can tell us things we could learn in no other way. This study is based on a reading of almost every extant document written in or about Petersburg, Virginia, from 1784, when the town record books were begun, to 1860. It is only one community, but the records of a single community can change the way we understand . . .

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