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The Family in the 17th and 18th Centuries

The English Colonies

  • Purpose of the new settlements was to recreate English institutions and traditions as soon as possible.
    • Institutions such as patriarchy, marriage, law etc.
    • The family was an agent of settlement and a source of population
    • The economy depended on the family farm



  • Patriarchy : A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it
    • was not only a domestic system but also a political and religious one



  • Domestic unity was viewed as a public good
    • Family stability meant community stability
  • A woman was considered property.
    • She belonged to her father until she married and at that time ownership was passed to her husband.
    • Married women had no property rights of their own
  • Children were also considered property and the father had full ownership.


The Happy Home

  • Basic prerequisites for a happy home was wifely obedience
  • Head of household was required to:
    • Control its members
    • Supervise finances
    • Made family decisions
    • Served as intermediary between family and community


Women and the Law in the British Colonies

  • Feme Sole
    • A single woman
    • Divorced
    • Widowed
  • Feme Covert
    • A woman protected by marriage
    • A woman did not have a separate legal existence


Puritan Women

  • Most Puritan women accepted their subordinate place in society.
  • “Ordered liberty”; Collective; Not individual
  • They viewed themselves as part of a community and a family, with duties determined by their sex and age not as individuals with rights equal to those of men.


Puritan Social Structure

  • In the family, the husband was superior to wife, but together they ruled the children and servants.
  • In the church, the minister and elders dominated the congregation.
  • In the community officials led the people.


Puritan Church

  • Religion and politics were intertwined
  • Women’s role in the church was the same as their role in society
    • Women could not preach or vote on church business


The Quakers

  • Ideal: To live according to the doctrine that all are equal in the eyes of God.
  • Pennsylvania was “holy experiment” where Quakers could exercise their beliefs without interference.
  • Women were more vocal and more active participants than Puritans.


Quaker Women

  • Quaker women could be vocal in church
  • They believed that God spoke through them (everyone)
  • These women challenged the Puritan faith and expectations of female subordination


17th and 18th Century Women

  • Women remained subordinate to men.
  • Women’s lives centered around the household.
  • Women rarely controlled their own destiny.


Women’s Work

  • Lifelong production of food, clothing, and household items
  • Women’s work was done in or around the home.
    • Daily food preparation
    • Food preservation: smoked and salted meat; pickled vegetables
    • Made soap, candles, medicines
    • Made clothing



  • Childbirth was the one occasion where women were in total control and men were excluded
  • 1/5 of adult deaths among women occurred during childbirth
  • High infant mortality rate
  • Higher survival rate fostered greater emotional investment in children


Early Education

  • Almost all education took place in the home
    • Children were taught character formation and vocational training
    • Girls were taught obedience, industry, piety, and the habit of silence
    • (all personality traits that were valued in women)


Gender and Character

  • Rationality was a male characteristic
  • Piety was always associated with womanhood
  • Women’s education emerges but with resistance
  • Intellectual Activity was linked to unflattering masculinity



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History 111