Writing Women's History Through the Revolution: Family Finances, Letter Writing, and Conceptions of Marriage
- The William and Mary Quarterly
- Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
- Volume 74, Number 4, October 2017, 3rd series
- pp. 697-728
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Whether concerned with the American Revolution's legacies or the gendering of economic life, historians tend to overlook women's economic experiences during the years of active military conflict. This article suggests that attention to gendered power within wartime practices revises understandings of the revolution and chronologies of the long eighteenth century. By analyzing the correspondence of seven middling and elite New England couples, it finds that, during the years that supposedly preceded the rise of companionate marriage, the economic dimensions of marriage became more, not less, pronounced. The upheaval of wartime heightened the importance of families, letter writing, and emotional language in moderating economic uncertainties. With the war under way and men leaving home for military and government posts, wives assumed enhanced responsibilities in financial matters. Redeploying older patterns of correspondence between business associates, spouses commingled emotional and practical language to make sense of their dual roles as romantic partners and economic collaborators. The American Revolution intensified existing features of eighteenth-century economic life, and ordinary people's wartime economic practices may have in turn destabilized hierarchical visions of marriage during the early republic.