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Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789 / Edition 3

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Overview

Women before the Bar is the first study to investigate changing patterns of women's participation in early American courts across a broad range of legal actions—including proceedings related to debt, divorce, illicit sex, rape, and slander. Weaving the stories of individual women together with systematic analysis of gendered litigation patterns, Cornelia Dayton argues that women's relation to the courtroom scene in early New England shifted from one of integration in the mid-seventeenth century to one of marginality by the eve of the Revolution.

Using the court records of New Haven, which originally had the most Puritan-dominated legal regime of all the colonies, Dayton argues that Puritanism's insistence on godly behavior and communal modes of disputing initially created unusual opportunities for women's voices to be heard within the legal system. But women's presence in the courts declined significantly over time as Puritan beliefs lost their status as the organizing principles of society, as legal practice began to adhere more closely to English patriarchal models, as the economy became commercialized, and as middle-class families developed an ethic of privacy. By demonstrating that the early eighteenth century was a crucial locus of change in law, economy, and gender ideology, Dayton's findings argue for a reconceptualization of women's status in colonial New England and for a new periodization of women's history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Finely crafted. . . . Tackles questions that have long engaged feminist historians and other scholars interested in women and the law.

Signs

A book that will engage readers for a long time to come.

Law and History Review

An ambitious, well-written, meticulously researched, and tremendously successful book.

Reviews in American History

Women Before the Bar is already indispensable in my women's history courses.

Linda K. Kerber, author of Toward an Intellectual History of Women

One of the most insightful accounts of early American legal culture in years.

Choice

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Cornelia Hughes Dayton is associate professor of history at the University of California, Irvine.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations and Tables
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 From Godly Rules to Lawyerly Habits: Scenes from the New Haven Courtroom 15
Ch. 2 Toward Marginality: Women and the Litigated Economy 69
Ch. 3 Divorce: The Limits of a Puritan Remedy 105
Ch. 4 Consensual Sex: The Eighteenth-Century Double Standard 157
Ch. 5 Rape: The Problematics of Woman's Word 231
Ch. 6 Slanderous Speech: Gender and the Fall from Social Grace 285
Appendix 1: Divorce Petitions, Connecticut and New Haven Colonies, 1639-1710 329
Appendix 2: Divorce Petitions, Connecticut General Assembly, 1711-1789 334
Bibliography 337
Index 363
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