In Her Footsteps: Women and married life
Women and family life have changed dramatically from colonial times to the 21st century. Women have gone from legally being a possession of her husband to CEO's of conglomerates and from cooking and cleaning to holding office as senators and representatives. They have even run for president of the United States. Women have gone through differing changes through the last four centuries, and so have their marriages and overall the changes have been a positive change.
Women and marriage: Colonial times
Colonial women of the 17th century were usually married off by the time they were 13 or 14 and it was considered a social humiliation if she were not married by the time she was 25. After marriage, a woman would have been considered dead legally, was one with her husband, and had no rights unless she happened to be a widow.
A woman did not have an easy life during this time having being burdened with cast iron pots, huge cauldrons or wash pots, mortals and pestles, kettles, molds for candle making, butter churns, spinning wheels and many more items she need to provide for her family. She would have been responsible for all the cleaning and cooling, planting a vegetable garden, milking cows, putting up the vegetables she raised for use during the winter. Woman would have made their own dye, lye soap as well as medicines out of different herbs and weeds. However, spinning was "the colonial housewife's prized vocation, as well as an important skill to be passed on to daughters" (Woloch, pp. 23-24). This was a rare skill during this time period, with only a third of just Massachusetts women having this skill (Woloch, p. 24). The more typical households were even more primitive with women having fewer skills.
Women who were spinsters, who were rare during this time, or widowed did have more rights under colonial law. They possessed their own legal identities and having that legal identity they were able to sell and buy land, be sued as well as sue, sign legal contracts, have power of attorney, and administer estates. Even with the oppression of the legal system propertied women "were able to act as economic agents on behalf of their husbands and families but also in their own right and how they both actively engaged with the legal system and ignored it when they could" (Sturtz, 2002). Women, even with oppressive laws, still found a way not to only to meet the needs of their families, but give themselves some liberties.
With the coming of the American War for Independence, women began to see a change in their marriages due to the economic situations that the war brought about. They began to start their own business, usually as seamstresses making clothes for the soldiers. Women of the Revolution gained more authority, began to take an interest in the war effort by boycotting British goods as well as conduction fundraisers for the war effort. With the advent of this war women were beginning to gain ground in having more rights than in the years prior to the war.
Today women are no longer considered property of their husbands, have more rights in that they can own property, sue, and be sued and the list goes on, regardless of their marriage status. Today there are more luxuries in homes to add in the housework or "housewifery" from electric clothes washers and dryers, to automatic dishwashing machines. People buy their clothes at the mall or department store instead of sewing them at home, store bought food is normal today instead of raising gardens and canning it.
Women and marriage: The 1800's
With the industrial reevaluation beginning in the 1800's more families began moving from farms to the cities where daughters were able to find jobs in modern factories like the first factory that was opened by Francis Cabot Lowell opened in Boston in 1814 (Woloch, p. 136). Women were beginning to wait longer to marry due to the fact they were starting to enjoy the freedom of having job gave to them. During the 1800's marriage still played a very important role in maintaining social status and dictating the lives of women. Women began to wait to get married at an older age compared to their counterparts in the previous century.
Couples of this era began to date instead of relying on pre-arranged marriages. Women had a choice in who their chose for a husband. Even with more freedom to choose a husband a woman of this era were still expected to marry, and they still needed marriages to help support them in their later years in life.
Women of today, compared to women of the 1800's, do not need to marry to make sure that someone will provide for them in their latter years. Women have more job opportunities opened up to them and as a result, they can make provisions for their own retirement in their latter years.
Women and marriage: The 1900's
Women in the 1900's had several events that affected them and marriage from two world wars to a great depression to sexual liberation in the 20's and the 60's. It is debatable if some of the strides women made in the 1900's were for their betterment or detrimental to their cause.
Women and marriage: 21st century
Women in the 21st century have more options opened to them than any other time in history in their marriages. With all the options available, there is no one way that can define a marriage as "normal." In some households, the husband is the main wage earner with the wife stays home taking care of the children and household duties. In others, the woman works to support the family and the husband stays home a takes care of the housework and children. Yet in others, both work outside the home and the both share the responsibilities of the household.
"In the United States today, women and children generally have a higher standard of living within marriage than they do outside it, a-though married women with children tend to do more household work than their cohabitating or single-mother counterparts (Coontz, p. 286).
Bohrer says she is lucky: her family is very supportive, and her husband plays a big role in caring for their daughter. She is fortunate to have been stationed stateside for several years early on in her child's life (Deveny 2009).
There had been a drastic change for women and marriage in the last 400 years. They have gone from being a man's property to being equals, from being a slave to their husband, to making their own decisions. The changes in marriages over the last 400 years have been for the betterment of both the husband and wife. Regretfully it took 400 years for these changes to happen.
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- Woloch, N. (2006). Women and the American experience (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill. (Original work published 1984)