Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eliga H Gould


The prominence of patriarchy and common law has caused many historians to concentrate on the limitations placed on eighteenth-century Anglo-American women. The results often present women as objects, rather than subjects, of study. Using four major primary sources: Governor, Council and Assembly records, petitions, licensing materials, and treasury records, this study examines the relationship between ordinary women and the provincial government of New Hampshire in order to explain the customary options available to women in proceedings with the government. Even with a spouse still living, Anglo-American women acted as family agents and representatives when captured by the Native Americans and the French. When faced with the loss of a spouse due to war, women willingly used the right of petition to obtain what was owed them from the provincial government. Despite coverture, women were accepted as 'credible' witnesses on wills, bonds, and sureties as well as in court. The government routinely granted women licenses to run public houses of entertainment, trusting women with what was potentially the most disorderly place in colonial society, while also giving the women who chose to run taverns a source of income. Further, government officials had faith in the few women they chose to host the homeless provincial government to keep its secrets. During the eighteenth century, change for women was not dramatic or gender-exclusive. New Hampshire women maintained their traditional focus on domestic concerns. But, operating within the law, they also maintained customary, traditional access to the government and this allowed women to provide continuity and stability for their families. Female political activity was acceptable and relatively extensive as long as it was an extension of women's traditional focus on domestic welfare. In provincial society, women's abilities to exert themselves and gain results related to their family connections, personality, and social position as well as their sex. New Hampshire' relatively informal government allowed the domestic voice to blend seamlessly into the political when needed, giving women independence and autonomy within paternalistic bounds. Individual women were able to choose individual paths.