Ebb Tide in New England: Women, Seaports, and Social Change, 1630-1800
Although the female population was preponderant in Boston, Salem, Newport, and Portsmouth, Elaine Forman Crane finds that women of this period gradually became less autonomous and more dependent on men than they had been in the early years of English settlement.
Challenging the prevailing notion that women's lives improved during the revolutionary era, the author convincingly argues that women's voices grew weaker and their presence dimmer as the market economy and government expanded. Drawing from census lists, church records, merchants' ledgers, newspapers, town records, and family papers, Crane traces the evolution of religious, commercial, and legal institutions to show how women suffered a deterioration in economic standing, a growing public invisibility, and a heightened reliance on male decision making. She frames her narrative within the context of European women's experiences, revealing a parallel decline in status as the patriarchal structures of church, state, and market became more elaborate and interconnected.
Ebb Tide in New England offers a fresh perspective on ordinary women's lives in the colonial and revolutionary periods, and it makes a strong case for viewing the feminization of poverty in contemporary America as a product of these historical origins.
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