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Women of Colonial America

Key Books on Women's History


Women in colonial America told their own stories in letterbooks, journals, diaries and other writings. While most of these women were better-educated and well-off, first-person accounts are among the best ways to learn about women's lives. But few diaries exist, so other sources are often essential to understanding women's lives before the American Revolution -- especially more ordinary women.

1. First Generations : Women in Colonial America

by Carol Berkin. One of the most important reasons scholars and writers document women's history is to remind us all (men and women) that women made contributions, too. This is a book that helps bring out forgotten stories.
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2. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women

in Northern New England, 1650-1750. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich documents the social history of colonial American, focusing on women's lives. A classic in the field and a must-read for those interested in women's history for this period.
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3. Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women

1750-1800. Mary Beth Norton's two-part history includes, in Part I, how lived their lives before the Revolutionary War. She includes both North and South, free women and slaves, in this comprehensive account of the everyday life of women.

4. Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739-1762

This 1997 edition includes not only Pinckney's early and late letters from Carolina and some letters from her stay in England, but also a biographical sketch. Pinckney served as a plantation manager and invented an indigo dye that was important to South Carolina's economy. Her two sons were important figures in the American Revolution.
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5. Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Founding of...

... American Society. Mary Beth Norton contrasts the roles of a few very powerful early colonial women with changes in attitudes towards women by the time of the American Revolution. She uses the story of a servant, Thomasine or Thomas Hall, who moved back and forth between male and gender roles, as one illustration of the way colonists empowered and punished women and men differently.
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6. Home Life in Colonial Days

A reprint of the 1898 classic study by Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911), this book details the everyday life of New England, including women's lives -- their work, their food, their customs, their religious practices. It's a good example not only of an early attempt at social history, but also of how 19th century authors viewed the lives of colonial women.
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7. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs

Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia. By Kathleen Brown. In the patriarchal society established in Virginia by English settlers, women were both naturally virtuous and morally dangerous -- ideas about women's nature were in flux. This book explores the political and social significance of gender differences in that period and place, especially related to race and class.
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