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Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 Paperback – June 4, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0679732570 ISBN-10: 0679732578 Edition: Reissue

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Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 + A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 + Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Dover Thrift Editions)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (June 4, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679732578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679732570
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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 Inside Flap

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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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
I was required to read this book in college.
Dawn Rouse
I found this to be more of a text book, but very interesting, really gets into the difficulty of being a woman in that time frame.
Deborah L Boissonneault
Good Wives sheds an illuminating light on the lives of early American women in New England.
Daniel Jolley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By "gaios33" on October 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was also required to read this in college--last year in fact--for a seminar on Colonial American society. I was not able to finish it in the week we were given to read it...I liked it so much, that I finished it over the summer as my recreational travel reading! She gives you all the details, the colors, the textures, the sights, sounds, smells, and even the tastes of what it was like to be a woman in the early years of settlement in this country. Particularly enjoyable was reading about the living connection of Ulrich's own experiences working with cows, baking pies, preparing preserves, and speaking with old women in her little New England community.
What began to annoy me after I read this book was when people implied that nothing existed before 1776, the "birth of this country"--how could I believe that after living in the century prior to 1750 through this perceptive book? Amazing to read, amazing to think about, and amazing in the way it ultimately changes your paradigm. I only wish all history books were as absorbing as this.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 5, 2002
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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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
How can any history can be written as though 50% of the population doesn't exist? This book gives a clear idea of what that other 50% was doing while the others were becoming "historic". It becomes clear that these women were not cut from a cookie-cutter, and their position in society was not so stagnant or ineffectual as modern Americans like to believe.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Booky Galore on August 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
I am a passionate fan of A Midwife's Tale, and so expected to enjoy Good Wives. It is different, but nevertheless, an incredibly valuable resource. I read with amusement the one-star review from the student who'd been compelled to read this for a college course and thought..."Gosh, he COULDN'T have read this book! He must be confusing the title!" It is crammed with interesting, offbeat, entertaining, and poignant glimpses into colonial American life. Perhaps I enjoy Ulrich's books so much because I live in a northeastern hamlet next to a 350-year-old village and run into history on my way to the grocery store (or local farm) to pick up eggs. If I haven't convinced you to give this a try, let me just throw in that this is quite a sexy little book, for the Puritans and colonials, contrary to folklore, were very susceptible to Eros. It's also a book one can pick up, read a bit, then take up later with no difficulty. If you enjoy history, particularly the Princeton "common man" school and not just kings and queens...you'll have a wonderful time with Good Wives.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Cathleen M. Walker VINE VOICE on 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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