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History Corner





The Emancipation of Women


Carl Bridenbaugh, Vexed and Troubled Englishmen: 1590-1642 (1968; Oxford University Press, New York), pp. 27, 28.


‘The subordination of women under feudalism and the Christian Church throughout the Middle Ages proved to be so complete and so effective that few challenges to this immutable order occurred much before the accession of Elizabeth.

The first treatise explaining the complicated and restrictive status of the fair sex, assembled in Tudor days though not published until 1632, was The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights [also known as The Women’s Lawyer – Ed.].

Because of Adam’s sin, the compiler held, half apologetically,


Women have no voyse in Parliament, They make no Lawes, they consent to none, they abrogate none.

All of them are understood either married or to bee married and their desires are subject to their husband, I know no remedy though some women can shift it well enough. The Common Law here shaketh hand with Divinitie. . . .


‛Thus, in most instances, did man-made society deny to woman any part in public life or control of her property.

Years later, 1642, Thomas Fuller could still insist that “the house is the woman’s centre,” as he elucidated the attitude of his countrymen, for in Jacobean and Caroline times, men in general deeply resented the intrusion of women into the hitherto forbidden spheres of trade and the intellect.


‛It was the growth and change in the economy that opened more places for women in business life, and education raised many of them socially and culturally as their worldly wealth accrued. Puritanism proved a tangible aid in their gradual emancipation.


As in former years, the women helped to educate England’s children and managed households; they aided their spouses in agriculture or trade, and they nursed them through their illnesses. Soon they would embark with them, however reluctantly, in the great English adventure of colonization. The women gave the coup de grâce to the Middle Ages; they were the makers of a modern England.’



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