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Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 [Paperback]

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 4 1991 Vintage
This enthralling work of scholarship strips away those abstractions to reveal the hidden -- and not always stoic -- face of the "goodwives" of colonial America. In these pages we encounter the awesome burdens -- and the considerable power -- of a New England housewife's domestic life and witness her occasional forays into the world of men. We see her borrowing from her neighbors, loving her husband, raising -- and, all too often, mourning -- her children, and even attaining fame as a heroine of frontier conflicts or notoriety as a murderess. Painstakingly researched, lively with scandal and homely detail, Good Wives is history at its best.

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Review

"[Ulrich] makes a modern reader understand what it would have been like to have been born female in early New England...a truly remarkable achievement." -- Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

A gravestone in northern New England proclaims that a woman was "Eminent for Holiness...Prudence, Sincerity...Meakness...Weanedness From ye World...Publick-Spiritedness ...Faithfulness & Charity."

"A major addition to our historical understanding of women in colonial New England...a path-breaking depiction of wives and mothers." -- Kathryn Kish Sklar, S.U.N.Y., Binghamton

From the Back Cover

"[Ulrich] makes a modern reader understand what it would have been like to have been born female in early New England...a truly remarkable achievement." -- Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

A gravestone in northern New England proclaims that a woman was "Eminent for Holiness...Prudence, Sincerity...Meakness...Weanedness From ye World...Publick-Spiritedness ...Faithfulness & Charity."

"A major addition to our historical understanding of women in colonial New England...a path-breaking depiction of wives and mothers." -- Kathryn Kish Sklar, S.U.N.Y., Binghamton


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
BY ENGLISH TRADITION, a woman's environment was the family dwelling and the yard or yards surrounding it. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Pots and pans" history April 14 2004
Format:Paperback
"Pots and pans" history. So that's what this stuff is called. If that is supposed to diminish it, allow me to suggest that nothing could be further from the truth.
Nothing is more controversial in our society today than "woman's place," and no where is it more controversial than among women. (Any email list will bear this out.)
But what was it like for the women who were the founders of this country? How often do we even think about how they lived, unless we happen to visit one of the burgeoning historical communities multiplying across the country?
It was work, and it was hard work. Women were at home, and they were at home for a reason. Even getting to church was a major endeavor, and one they fought for, for it was women who built many of the major American congregations thriving today.
Their relationships with each other sustained them, and also were likely to pose the most threat, for women could make or break the reputations of one another, upon which survival depended.
Childbirth, pre, post and in between, determined the rhythm of life for generations of women. There were many births, and many of them did not live to adulthood. A woman who was able to nurture many children to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren had accomplished a great deal, and was honored accordingly.
They had to know and understand the rhythms of nature and the timing of how to use an oven they could stand in and work with its heat as it coursed over the length of a day. There were no timers. There were no temperature regulators. There certainly were no microwave ovens or dish washers or washing machines.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! June 5 2003
Format:Paperback
This was fabulous! The author clearly does NOT hate Puritans. She is objective, insightful. It's a treasure!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good book about colonial women Jan. 21 2004
Format:Paperback
I am very interested in finding out about colonial American women. This book didn't disappoint as far as facts. The author takes great pains to mention as much as she can about the women she's writing about. My only quibble with the book would be sometimes when the author introduces some facts, she would just leave the facts hanging there. There would be interesting tibits mentioned about a particular woman, then that tibit would be left and the author would go one to discuss something else.
Still, overall this book is very enlightening about how women lived back in colonial times.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dated but a great place to start. June 16 2002
Format:Paperback
Ulrich succeeds in bringing to life the obscure and the mundane in a manner that intrigues and entertains. This is not a small feat given a subject that I thought would be somewhat dry. Rather than reading like a textbook, Ulrich targets the divisions of women's lives that Nancy Cott used, religion, sisterhood, domesticity, and marriage relations with a wit and wealth of facinating vingettes.
The only real issue I have with the book (aside from becoming a little dated twenty years on) is the title. People seem to assume that a book entitled 'Good Wives' is a type of antiquated self help manual, rather than a record of the Good wives of 17th and 18th Century America.
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By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Good Wives sheds an illuminating light on the lives of early American women in New England. Ulrich does a great job in proving that these women's lives were far from static and submissive, a fact long lines of historians have never realized or have ignored. Of course, one reason New England's pre-colonial women have not been studied to any vast degree is the fact that primary (and even secondary) source material is almost nonexistent. For example, there is no female diary written before 1750. Ulrich deeply mines the sources that are extant and presents her findings in a way that is highly organized, richly detailed, and quite illuminating. Her main sources consist of court records, probate records, family papers (which include only a very small number of letters written by women), diaries of men, church records, and the contents of ministerial sermons. She is very careful to qualify the reliability and utility of each source, and, in a bibliographical essay, she points to the shortcomings of previous historical monographs that either ignored colonial women or dismissed their influence in colonial life.
Ulrich states that this book is a study of role definition, and she organizes her text around three role clusters associated with three Biblical women (an appropriate framework for the religious societies of colonial New England). Her three prototypes are Bathsheeba for economic affairs, Eve for sexual/reproductive matters, and Jael for matters of female aggression within the bounds of religion. Ulrich identifies and expounds upon the following roles for colonial New England women: housewife, deputy husband, consort, mother, mistress, neighbor, Christian, and--in some cases--heroism.
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