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Posted December 30, 2012
This is a very down-to-earth collection of studies that convey the state of women's lives in a grinding age of uphill struggle. The accounts start in a setting of religious war, famine, plague, witch hunts, and economic upheavals that make the 1930s Great Depression look gentle. We are introduced to real women from these centuries who tell their stories with candor. There are thread-spinning "spinsters" who lose their jobs en masse, Catholic nuns breaking out of cloisters for vocations beyond chastity, and Protestant wives doing likewise with less institutional support. Hufton's contributors trace the mainly volunteer-driven rise of education by and for females. They portray Europe's ancient caste-like divisions of roles or virtues for men and for women, which shift at roughly the speed of a melting glacier. From seeing initiative by females as the original source of evil, society begins to trust tapping women's potential for innovation.
--author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization