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Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750
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Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,581 ratings  ·  76 reviews
This enthralling work of scholarship strips away those abstractions to reveal the hidden -- and not always stoic -- face of the "goodwives" of colonial America. In these pages we encounter the awesome burdens -- and the considerable power -- of a New England housewife's domestic life and witness her occasional forays into the world of men. We see her borrowing from her nei ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published June 4th 1991 by Vintage (first published March 12th 1982)
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 ·  1,581 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Good Wives started out slow and dry, and while reading the first few pages, I remember thinking, "I'm not going to finish this." Then something happened, and I'm not sure if the pace picked up or Ulrich moved on to richer history or if some other variable came into play, but I was hooked shortly thereafter. I didn't even notice how involved I was until more than halfway through the book, at which point I was still trying to read as I clocked back in after my lunch break. It takes her awhile, but ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and accessible. Ulrich doesn't get too theoretical and doesn't seem to have an "-ism" driving her work. I don't recall shaking my head much at interpretive stretches. I feel like I have a better understanding of what life was like for my ancestors 300 years ago. ...more
Angela Gyurko
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This caught my eye at a bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts, and it was worth the read. Easily organized into sections related to the different roles women played, Ulrich provides bite-sized nuggets of women's lives in New England in the early colonial days.

My yearnings for greater detail will have to wait until I have time to seek out her primary sources.
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Also on my blog, Luthien Reviews

In Good Wives (a play on the title “Goodwife,” or “Goody,” commonly used by many Puritans in New England to refer to a married woman), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich explores the expectations and conventions of colonial women in Maine, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts over the course of a century and how they intersected with the realities of their day-to-day lives. She separates her study between the economic, sexual and parental, and religious roles of these wo
Bev Siddons
Sep 24, 2013 rated it liked it
As part of my research into our family tree, I was guided to this book. I've only just finished the first couple of chapters but can already see how it enables the reader to actually experience the lives of 17th century New England women. For a long time history was only told from the male perspective as it was a male dominated society with women not being allowed to own property and many times losing a means of survival once their husbands died. "Good Wives" sheds some light on that topic by sh ...more
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, Goodwives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, “is a study in role definition, an extended description constructed from a series of vignettes.” According to Ulrich, women's roles during the colonial period are important and complex, and Goodwives fills a gaping hole in the historiography of women’s history by addressing the many ways in which women participated in the various levels of society during the colonial pe ...more
Feb 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Excellent, serious, non-pedantic book. I read it because I - true story! - found a box of "Good Wives" brand puff paste in my freezer and I got all bent out of shape.

More here:
Aug 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read majority of book - what surprised me was the social power that women exercised - which then turned into kinds of political and even religious power. Ahhhh, but, we have our ways!
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comps
Good Wives has become, as it is for me, the classic text for dipping into women's history in early America. First published in 1980, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich set out to examine how married women in Northern New England spent their lives besides being "good wives" as they were called, and to restore their humanity beyond loving wives and mothers. "How did they fill their days?" Ulrich puzzled. Her task was formidable - women left few sources - no women's diaries exist in NE before 1750 and very few ...more
Alexa-rae Barnes
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Within early New England historical research, specifically on Puritan settlements, ambivalence regarding women’s position and status prevails. However, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich explains that “in the study of early New England, gender is as important a category as race, wealth, age, geography, or religion.” (pg. 241) When people think of Puritan life, they are often quick to imagine a life of modest black clothing, sexual repression, and female subjugation defended by religious values. Indeed, reli ...more
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The recovery of women's history is part of a larger movement to reassess and redefine the position of women in the contemporary world. Good Wives is addressed not just to colonial history but to the larger history of American women. . . . it is to argue that a search for a 'turning point' in women's history may be misleading. The story of female experience in America is not to be found in linear progression from darkness into light, from constricted to expanding opportunities, from negative to ...more
Mar 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Good Wives is definitely dry, especially in the beginning. It may have taken me 5 years to finish, if we want to be super technical. After a false start a few years ago, I picked it up again this year and can now proudly move it from my "in danger when the next Marie Kondo-ing bout happens" shelf onto my "read" shelf. I think it helped that I read Stacy Schiff's The Witches recently, since both books cover similar themes and occupy the same historical time.

While the Witches does a lot of "imagi
Deryn Tang
Dec 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
For anyone doing research on the lives of women during the period in history 1650-1750 in Northern New England, this book is an excellent resource. I was fascinated by some of the characters she described and the lengths women had to go to for survival. More interesting was the social history backdrop in this era when women could be both honored or demonized, often more due to their characters than to the situation. It was a little slow to start, but the angles from which Ulrich pulled the story ...more
Sarah Honsinger
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting look at women in colonial America, exploring their integral role to society, family, and community. In this book, colonial womenhood is not a spectator sport, and recognition is not a concession. By defining the various roles that these women filled, Ulrich elevates them to their rightful place in history and sheds light in an overlooked aspect of social history.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this quickly because I needed to return it to the library but it was really interesting. Really liked how she was able to use sources to tell a story without pushing an agenda or trying to draw conclusions that weren't there. ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting. But a difficult read!
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book
Vignettes give information about women's lives which are often ignored.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not really my interest. Some, but a lot of extra detail.
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and informative book! Ulrich does a wonderful job bringing to life the everyday lives of women living during this time period
May 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
informative but kind of a slog to read...I appreciate her work in social history, particularly back in the 80s...
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An academic read that was truly interesting. Looking forward to reading more by this author.
Leiki Fae
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very engaging and informative.
Ericka Jade
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting but reads a bit like a textbook. About halfway through it did begin to read a bit less dry.
Has Footnotes as well as Bibliography. Map and b&w plates.
Oct 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic research! I'll be referencing this book often. ...more
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Good Wives is the second reference book in a row I've read that has been a fascinating, well-written and thoroughly researched account that I've powered through and been sorry to put down. Good Wives is focused on the lives of women living in Northern New England over a hundred year period during the 17th and 18th centuries. Ulrich divides her book into three main sections – women's roles in industry and economics ('Bathsheba'), sex and reproduction ('Eve') and violence ...more
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good Wives, Images and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England (1650-1750) is another well-researched work by Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. As noted in its subtitle, it focuses on colonial women who resided in the coastal areas of (today’s) Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Ms. Ulrich started the book by comparing and contrasting the daily lives of city, farming, and frontier wives. I greatly enjoyed that approach; however, it then drifted to discussio
Nov 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009-reads
Another book I've had for a while and just got around to reading. I had seen a documentary-type program on PBS a couple of years ago on The Midwife's Tale, another book by Ulrich, and when I saw this one, picked it up because I find the topic and the time period to be interesting overall.

Though this is a work of non-fiction, and I guess could be classified as "academic," the writing is very straightforward and approachable. The author takes different aspects of women's lives during the time peri
Mary Catelli
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-modern

The title being a pun, as "Goodwife" was a title of address for a woman of ordinary status. Though it covers women of higher rank and their roles, too.

Their economic roles, in the house, in the garden, out in the woods or by the shore, gathering, sometimes even in the orchard. Acting on behalf of their husbands. Their roles of mistresses -- whose servants were overwhelming girls mastering housewifery to go on to be mistresses themselves. The "pretty gentlewomen."

Their roles in families. Irregula
Cassie Rodgers
Sep 07, 2011 rated it liked it
I just, really, I've only read the introduction, so really I have no business writing a review, but here are my expectations, lets see if they're quenched.
I am interested in learning about the role of women in actuality, something that seems nearly impossible to do when history from that time and place is so edited. But there were certainly strong intelligent women around...they were around all over the world for centuries before and right up to the present, I can't imagine there wa
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Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. She is the author of Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Early New England, 1650-1750 (1982) and A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990) which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1991 and became the basis of a PBS documentary. In The Age of Homespun ...more

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