The Life of a Colonial Woman

May 4, 2010 | NeW Staff

This quarter I’m taking a history class on Colonial America. Recently, I had to read a book by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich entitled Good Wives, which analyzes the role of women in northern New England from 1650-1750.

The author describes in great detail the image and reality of women, and one point particular she discusses struck me as very interesting.  During the eighteenth century, colonial women actually had the power to go out to trade at markets, slaughter their own livestock, and tend to gardens – the entire house and farm area was their domain. As a matter of fact, women brought in the same amount, if not more money into the household as men from working the fields, which were usually located a few miles away.

Additionally, these married women acted as “deputy husbands” if their husbands were away. A wife could make decisions an attorney would make and also take care of monetary issues on behalf of her husband. It was only during the Victorian Era, the nineteenth century that many of these powers were eliminated for reasons highly debated among historians.

Although Ulrich does not touch on why these powers changed, I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in life during the Colonial period. The author does an excellent job of illustrating the lives of women, which proved to have much more variety than men’s lives during the time. While men had but one role to fulfill, women had many roles – wife, mother, deputy husband, trader, and Christian.

As a last point, I don’t look on the Colonial woman’s life with any sort of nostalgia – a woman’s life was constrained by our standards, but at the same time, I find it interesting just how much freedom they had over 300 years ago.

Check out the book here at

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