The editors draw on diaries, letters, essays, court documents, sermons, wills, plantation records, newspapers, fiction, and advice manuals to reconstruct women's lives and roles during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to sources that convey women's experiences in their own words, the work includes prescriptive and proscriptive materials, most written by men, to further illuminate women's behavior and attitudes. The book is divided into six thematic chapters: sex and reproduction, marriage and family, women's work, religion, politics and the law, and changing gender ideologies. Introductory essays by the editors place each section within historical, cultural, and social context, and each source is annotated with information about the document's author and insightful interpretation of its typicality or its special circumstances.
This enriching collection fills a major gap in the study of early American women, and it is sure to stimulate further discussions about both the common and diverse aspects of their lives.