Abstract

While natural spring spas usually have been associated with late seventeenth century sociability, they also have been understood as refuges for libertine exploit. But female-authored accounts of spa visits provide a different picture. This article examines female homosociability at spas in Britain from 1640–1714. Women at the spa walked outdoors with one another, visited fairs and attended plays. They shared meals and went dancing, and they conducted their prescribed medicinal regimes of “taking the waters” in one another’s company. Elite women socialized with members of their own station as well as with the female servants who accompanied them; and they chose to do business with the many female innkeepers, brewers and provisioners who lived and worked in spa towns. Secure in these homosocial spaces, female visitors to the spa talked with one another about child care, medicine-making and health cures. And in this process, women constructed elite identities, distinct and feminine senses of ‘self.’ At the spa, women were able to circulate their ideas within a culture which often was centered upon the flirtatious advances of male libertines, or around the advice and authority of male physicians. Projecting their voices from a communal female authority, women at spas created and defended female-oriented spaces.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 361-383
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-24
Open Access
No
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