Book Review: A History of Women in America From the beginning of time, women have subtly shaped the history of the human race. Just by operating under social normality or defying it, a woman can cause a movement. In Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman’s book, A History of Women in America, they focus on the more modern changes women have had on history rather than focusing more on the impact women had on the foundation of the United States. While men carried out much of the remembered history of the founding of the United States, women were behind them.
In fact, women were the reason that the British colony even lasted, unlike the first attempts such as Roanoke. At the time women were viewed as the weaker sex, this gave the men a reason to build a permanent, safe place to sleep and live. Both authors said, “In a totally undeveloped and sparsely populated land, the labor of ever able-bodied settler was desperately needed, and a women’s traditional work –providing food, clothing, shelter, and the rudiments of hygiene – was essential to survival” (2), because at the time men did not learn such things and like with Roanoke they would have failed without women.
While the environment remained harsh, women and men worked together to stabilize the world around them. From those hostile homes turned to calm cottages and as their home environment became more stable women received freedoms that some women of the suffrage would envy, but once it came to law and politics women were once again merely the property of their husbands and less than a person under law. Later in colonial period, the depressing duties of housewifery varied from region to region creating identity among the regions. The wives of southern planters rarely did their own weaving and spinning, while in the northern colonies these tasks took up many hours of a woman” (4) shows some of the diversity and women in the southern colonies took up herbal remedies and nursing, but the basics of each chore stems from housekeeping. Although these kinds of responsibilities carry over to future generations, modern technologies made the chores easier and less strenuous that helped women advocate for official rights.
However, colonial homemakers did have some power in finances, the family business, and legal business and learn to perform their husbands’ trade none of these freedoms existed in law, but they were excepted in America. The two authors mention a woman, Margret Brent, who owned part of a business, and part of a school, and then went into politics. However, bias against women eventually caused people to turn on her. The treatment of colonial women never passed either extreme of accepting or repulsion, but when punishment became part of the question, the penalty was skewed.
A woman was punished if she was pregnant before marriage but the father of the child was mostly unaffected. The politician Margret Brent was punished more harshly because she was a woman. The treatment of these women during engagement or pursuit was gentler than one would expect, more so in the upper class citizens, the women were not inferior until after marriage. Divorces existed in the colonies, but “for the most part social pressures against it were so extreme and grounds so difficult to obtain that in practice it was not a real option. ”(12) So to get away from the bad marriages women would run away and start a new life elsewhere.
Then during the revolutionary war, and wars after it, women experienced more social freedoms. These freedoms could lead them into battle with their husbands or waiting in the cities to tend to the wounded. The colonial women helped establish a great nation and there for deserve much more credit than they often receive. They felt the intense hardships of the long voyage, then the harsh land and still were able to create a thriving new world. Men may have more moments that are memorable in history, but the women behind those men often give more effort.