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"Marriage and family," Carol Berkin and Leslie Horowitz, eds., Women's Lives, Women's Voices: Documents in Early American History, (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), 48-49.

 For definitions of unfamiliar terms please see our glossary.

“Much of a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century woman’s life was spent within the realms of marriage and motherhood. In Anglo-European society, an adult woman was defined by her relationship to the institution of marriage: she was either a miss or a madam – a maid (and later a spinster) or a wife (then perhaps a widow). Her sense of accomplishment and her reputation within the community were measured according to a female ideal of the ‘notable housewife,’ with its central demands that a woman be a helpmeet to her husband, a fertile wife, a competent mother, and an economical and productive household manager. These demands could not be met outside marriage and without the creation of a family. In short, the only arena in which a white colonial woman could hope to be fully acknowledged was within marriage.

As institutions, marriage and the family served important legal ends.  They provided mechanisms for the identification of legitimate heirs and for the inheritance of property. They ensured the maintenance of individuals socially defined as dependent, such as women and children, through private rather than public resources.  As social institutions, they regulated behavior, including reproduction, instilled and reinforced community values, and provided vocational training....”

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