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Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia Paperback – May 13, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0812219173 ISBN-10: 0812219171

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Editorial Reviews


"Wulf organizes her book around a series of elegantly intertwined essays, each centered on the experiences of a particular woman and touching on a different aspect of women's lives, from their attitudes towards marriage or their sense of self, to their commercial transactions or their political activities. This approach allows Wulf to create brief but vivid sketches of the lives of individual single women even as she discusses the broader implications of their experiences."—Journal of Social History

"Karin Wulf has made an important contribution to early American women's history. Not All Wives is a gracefully written, extensively researched account of unmarried women's experiences in colonial Philadelphia."—Reviews in American History

About the Author

Karin Wulf is Associate Professor of History at American University. She is the coeditor of Milcah Martha Moore's Book: A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (May 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812219171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812219173
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #489,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Cloudburst on June 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
Colonial American studies have traditionally focused on the dominant roles of men in the household and their respective spouses. Breaking new historical ground, Karin Wulf creates a new colonial paradigm and explores the relatively uncharted history of single women during the mid-eighteenth century in Not All Wives. The focus of the work centers on marital status and "engages the historical problem of detangling the history of women from the history of women in marriage." (6) With a clear and novel narrative, Wulf's gender study addresses the social, political, and economic roles of single women residing in, or near, Philadelphia. This largest colonial city, according to the author, provided a generous population of single females. "The presence of unmarried women," notes Wulf, "affected household arrangements, intense and emotional ties, and inheritance practices." (110) These contentions, and more, were well argued by the author and add a new dimension to future colonial studies.

The opening chapters, which are exemplars of careful and exhaustive research, establish the strong belief that gender norms included a form of autonomy, which generally had been ignored by historians, from single females such as widows, unmarried women, spinsters, and others in the mid-eighteenth century. Key to the aforementioned arguments is Wulf's reliance on Moravian and Quaker groups that inhabited eastern Pennsylvania. The latter faction, through poetry, almanacs and other literary vehicles, influenced many single women to question the status quo and to gain more dependence and express their individualism.

One of the overarching themes of this work centers on the identity of women and how it was defined in colonial times.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Learning New Ways on June 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
Excellent book. Well researched account of women in colonial Philadelphia and Pennsylvania that differentiates that culture and its beliefs from colonial New England as well as from the South.

The book is very thorough and looks at a full range of Quaker women's positions, behaviors and beliefs, from Quaker fathers' care and attention in ensuring their daughters did not get into oppressive marriages, to Quaker women's participation in the Stamp Act civil disobedience, to Quaker businesswomen routinely voting in city matters, to the ethical voice women were given on a par with men in the religion. It also looks at the conflict between this system and that of many other colonial populations, including later arriving immigrants, especially Catholic immigrants but even other Protestant sects (nearly all Protestant sects recognize women as "spiritual equals" to men, unlike Catholicism, and Jews recognize a "law of the blood" in the mother, but the Quakers took a different approach of a full recognition of person holding primacy over gender, with public political and economic roles for women, male responsibility for children, i.e. "Jesus has come to speak with his children himself", etc.). The failure of the Quaker-designed political structures to follow through on responsibilities of citizenship, not just rights, perhaps for no other reason but that paternity was not provable, then led to these other systems building a civic system of poverty in women and "masculine independence".

The colonial era Quakers' civil disobedience of the Norman Conquest laws of coverture is an underreported and misunderstood phenomenon that likely played a role in the framing of the Constitution to recognize fundamental rights of adults (i.e.
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