Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review of Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America

Women's Roles in Seventeenth-Century America

My review of Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America by Merril D. Smith (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008).
Published in ARBAonline, August 2009.

In Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America, independent scholar Merril D. Smith examines how colonial beliefs about women affected their lives and demonstrates how significant women were in shaping the world around them. Smith considers the lives of white, African, and Native American women between 1600 and 1700 in the British North American colonies. She observes that while the phrase “women’s roles” connotes static responsibilities, in reality, women’s roles were fluid and overlapping in a time of change, conflict, and confusion in the Western world. As wives and mothers, women created families and preserved the social order, while being impacted by revolutions in political, religious, and scientific thought.

Readers will find the narrative chapters scholarly yet accessible, interleaved with illustrations and primary source excerpts. Historically well-known women, such as Puritans Anne Hutchinson and Anne Bradstreet, Quaker Mary Dyer, Indian captive Hannah Duston, and free black landowner Mary Johnson, are discussed, as well as the lives of everyday women recorded in court papers, ship records, church minutes, diaries, and letters. Popular culture sources, such as advice books and ballads, provide indications of gender perceptions during this period.

Chapters elucidate women’s importance in the family, law, immigration, work, religion, war, education, literature, and recreation, and a chronology and selected bibliography accompany the text. This volume is part of Greenwood’s Women’s Roles through History series, which impetus was the excellent reference Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilizations (ARBA 2000). It is highly recommended for high schools with strong history or women’s studies programs.

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