Cover image for Not all wives : women of colonial Philadelphia
Not all wives : women of colonial Philadelphia
Wulf, Karin A., 1964-
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Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvii, 217 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
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HQ800.4.U62 P48 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Marital status was a fundamental legal 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, rights 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 in order 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 modern 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.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Wulf reconsiders the roles of single women in Colonial Philadelphia, incorporating widows and women who never married in her category of "single" women. The introduction effectively summarizes the historiography on women who lived on both sides of the Atlantic, focusing, in particular, on Quakers. Wulf points out that although early modern ideologies held that gender ordered the household, those views assumed that adult women functioned as wives while, in practice, women in Philadelphia found a wider range of options open to them. Both the urban economy and the pietistic faith of many of the city's residents provided alternative opportunities and ideologies. Nonetheless, this did not signal an incipient feminism. Women remained excluded from political activity in the Revolutionary era because masculinity, rather than property-holding, became significant in defining who would participate in the new nation's governance. In five chapters built around biographical case studies, Wulf draws on both primary and secondary works. The book contributes to the growing history of women in the mid-Atlantic region, providing increasing opportunities for comparative study on gender roles in the pre-Revolutionary period. Upper-division undergraduates and above. L. Sturtz; Beloit College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xiii
Abbreviationsp. xvii
Introduction """"Not All Wives"""": the Problem of Marriage in Early Americap. 1
1 Martha Cooper's Choice: Literature and Mentalityp. 25
2 Elizabeth Norris S Reign: Religion and Selfp. 53
3 Mary Sandwith's Spouse: Family and Householdp. 85
4 Rachel Drapers Neighborhood: Work and Communityp. 119
5 Ann Dunlap's """"Great Want"""": Poverty and Public Policyp. 153
6 Lydia Hyde's Petition: Property and Political Culturep. 181
Indexp. 211