What is the role of women in the eighteenth century?
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In both Colonial America and the parent country, England, the traditional role of women was similar in that women weren't expected to do much, if anything, outside the home. The difference was that in much of Colonial America, many women worked very hard with homecaring tasks, childbearing and raising, nursing the sick, even providing rudimentary home education for their children; other women supervised the hired help (northerners) and/or slaves (Southerners), not working as hard, certainly, as their more middle class counterparts, but still expected to remain in the home, and concerned with issues of the home. In an unusual partnership that was not representative of most women's attitudes and behavior, Abigail Adams, wife of Founding Father and second United States president John Adams, might accurately be described as America's first feminist; in the volumes of correspondence between her and her husband during the course of their marriage, she frequently offered her ideas, political and otherwise, whether they were solicited or not. For his part, Adams generally took his wife's ideas fairly seriously, although when she counseled him to "Remember the ladies" in the new Constitution that was being written post-Revolution, chastising him that if women were denied equal rights, he could expect "a rebellion", an idea that Adams dismissed with amusement and mild ridicule, more accurately reflecting the values and mores of his time than Abigail!
Across the pond, Jane Austen was chronicling the role of women in eighteenth century society through mildly satirical novels such as her widely read (to this day) Pride and Prejudice, in which the mildly affluent Elizabeth Bennet encounters and eventually marries a wildly wealthy gentleman. While known predominately as a love story, Pride and Prejudice is perhaps more accurately described as a study of upper level British society in the 1700's, in which women were expected to be educated in cultural pursuits (music, art, literature), and whose most important task was to make a "good match" (read: marry a guy with money) because no woman with any societal manners would work outside or inside the home; indeed there would likely not be any such opportunities in the more acceptable upper circles of British society to work in any sort of outside pursuit.
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