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Women Status in the 17th Century

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  • Category: Women

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Women are an integral part of any human community. Woman is the mother of mankind. Therefore, there couldn’t be any man if there were no woman. However, despite holding such an important and unquestionable position in the society, the status and role of women have been outlined by men over millennia. Vedas clearly suggest to us that women held a significant place in ancient culture. Despite all this, women were still treated like slaves back in the 17th century. Women were looked down upon and treated with less dignity. A situation that has greatly changed today. Today, women have acquired equal heights with men. Men and women are competing in same platforms. Political offices and economic space are contested by both men and women (Barton 90).

Women in the 17th century were greatly challenged with expressing themselves in a patriarchal system that had basically refused to grant merit to their views. During this period, cultural and political events gave little attention to the women’s affairs such as education reform, and that is why women could not speak out against injustices. Women could not express themselves to address the conditions they were going through.

The social structure of this period allowed women very limited opportunities for involvement; most if not all, served as managers of their households. They were housewives. A housewife was to bake her family’s bread, brew their beer, and make their meals. They were also responsible for curing bacon, making pickles jellies and preserves. They were expected to put their efforts into practical domestic pursuits as well as activities that inspired the betterment of their families, and particularly their husbands. Women were kept very busy. Most men could not run some activities without their wives’ help. For instance, a farmer’s wife could as well milk cows, feed animals as well as grow herbs and vegetables. She also kept bees and on top of it took goods to the market if especially if she was from the countryside. In big households, they took care of food and organized the servants and how they worked (Barton 90).

Apart from being involved in the domestic activities, some women in this period also had a considerable education; especially the upper-class women. The upper-class women were greatly educated. However, even though they went to good schools, they studied some certain disciplines. There were disciplines that were definite for women. They learnt needlework, music, and dancing. They also learnt language skills and communication skills. Studies detail that they studied these kinds of courses so that they could not get derailed from their major chores. Even the courses they learnt were of much significance in their household duties. Some such as dancing were relevant when they had to entertain in different occasions. Therefore, though these women had access to education, the aim of their education was to ensure that they articulately and effectively attain their womanhood. A proper education for women in this period was viewed as that which gave much support to the domestic and social involvements but disregarded more of the academic pursuit (Walsh 378).

Despite being limited to household activities, women continued to play very important but not acknowledged part in economic and political structures through their domestic roles. Some historic studies in women history suggest that this marked the beginning of change in women status. They add that this was unseen to many people. Women participated in politics and economic affairs through their domestic roles. They acted as counselors in their homes. Women tempered their husbands’ words and actions. This was not clearly seen because they were able to participate in politics and economic issues through their roles in the family and community. Therefore, through this, they were able to influence the political system. This was their only platform because they were greatly discouraged from directly expressing political opinions counter to their husbands’ or to condemn the established system generally. Women found diverse ways of contributing to the society outside of the home. The women from the low class kept the city’s working industries alive through artisan as well as trade crafts practices. On the other hand, women from the noble class served as catalysts as well as donors in the maintenance of charitable hospices that ensured the welfare of many unfortunate individuals. This still dictates the role and status of woman during the 17th century period (Barton 92).

Political systems also perceived women as second-class citizens. They were subject to their fathers from birth. On growing up, they were later handed over like chattel to their husbands. This was mutual across all the classes. They had to be submissive. It is for this reason that divorces were rare during this period. Men at this period were allowed to beat their wives just as they could beat slaves. Fastidious demands were placed upon women with regards to conduct and virtue which they were to uphold at all times or be judged accordingly. Women had little rights, and they were not allowed to own much. They could not own land. If a woman had acquired land or economic security either through inheritance or hard work, all these were automatically awarded to the husband during marriage. After marriage, women could not own land or other properties under their names. For this reason, many widows chose not to remarry (Walsh 378).In some other words, we could say that women lived in fear during this era. They had to live with what was dictated by men. Men exclusively dictated the societal expectation of women. Among the most important traits that men prescribed to women include: modesty, sobriety, chastity, silence, and obedience. Women’s chastity was of great significance. It was vitally important especially for the young women. Some historical study on women claims that parents were advised to ensure their daughters do not take part in any form of recreational activity that could cause a potential threat to their rightful moral upbringing. To keep the young girl’s minds away from any sinful or evil thoughts, they were engaged in domestic crafts practices such as weaving and sewing. It is because of these guidelines that women were denied the freedom of mind and body, and their identities were narrowed within their own domestic fortresses (Walsh 380).


          Women in the 21st century enjoy rights that could be called privileges back in the 17th century. Today, women have equal rights as men. Women contest with men and women share platforms with men. In the 17th century, women had no rights. Women were kept busy with domestic crafts and domestic chores. Women had no rights to own property like land. They played no role in politics, and the only education they received was what could improve their womanhood. 17th century was an era of terror and discomfort to women.


Barton A. A Woman’s Place: Uncovering Maternalistic Forms of Governance in the 19th Century Reformatory. Family & Community History [serial online]. (2011) ;14(2):89-104

WALSH M. Gendering Mobility: Women, Work and Automobility in the United States. History [serial online]. (2008) ;93(311):376-395

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