What was women's work truly like in late eighteenth-century America, and what does it tell us about the gendered social relations of labor in the early republic? In Entangled Lives, Marla R. Miller examines the lives of Anglo-, African, and Native American women in one rural New England community—Hadley, Massachusetts—during the town's slow transformation following the Revolutionary War. Peering into the homes, taverns, and farmyards of Hadley, Miller offers readers an intimate history of the working lives of these women and their vital role in the local economy.
Miller, a longtime resident of Hadley, follows a handful of eighteenth-century women working in a variety of occupations: domestic service, cloth making, health and healing, and hospitality. She asks about the social openings and opportunities this work created—and the limitations it placed on ordinary lives. Her compelling stories about women's everyday work, grounded in the material culture, built environment, and landscapes of rural western Massachusetts, reveal the larger economic networks in which Hadley operated and the subtle shifts that accompanied the emergence of the middle class in that rural community. Ultimately, this book shows how work differentiated not only men and woman but also race and class as Miller follows young, mostly white women working in domestic service, African American women negotiating labor in enslavement and freedom, and women of the rural gentry acting as both producers and employers.
Engagingly written and featuring fascinating characters, the book deftly takes us inside a society and shows us how it functions. Offering an intervention into larger conversations about local history, microhistory, and historical scholarship, Entangled Lives is a revealing journey through early America.
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