What was life like for women in the Middle Colonies?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The life of a woman in the middle colonies really depended on what social class she belonged to and which colony she lived in. For instance, in the 17th Century, New York (previously called New Amsterdam) operated under many Dutch laws and customs. These customs allowed widows to retain ownership of their deceased husband's property, even if she remarried.

Wealthy women in the middle colonies were expected to be the managers of the household and belonged to social circles in which they regularly hosted and interacted with other women of their station. She was expected to take charge of childrearing and maintain the order of the household.

Lower and working-class women would often help their husband out in his trade. This might mean working in the fields if they were farmers, assisting in a workshop if they were artisans, or selling goods in the marketplace.

In Pennsylvania, there were many Quakers. Women in this religious sect were expected to be obedient to their husbands who had ownership of the entire family's property. She would have spent much of her time in the house working on domestic projects with other women, such as weaving, cooking, and gardening. Although there were separate services for men and women, Quaker women were also allowed to participate openly in most religious services.

Let's not forget the middle colonies had slaves for much of their history. Enslaved women, just like enslaved men, had no rights. They were expected to work at whatever their master instructed them to do. This might include hard physical labor in the fields or work maintaining a household. A slave might spend her whole life living and working for a single master. The alternative was even more dreadful. If a slave was sold to another master, she would be separated from her family, most likely forever. This was one of the greatest fears of slaves.

One thing that all these women shared was the duty of raising children. This was usually her primary responsibility. In some communities, like the Quakers, women would share this responsibility with each other, creating a communal child-rearing network.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial