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widows

In many societies, widowhood gave a woman the best chance at economic independence combined with control over her marital status.

LHMP entry

Beattie’s work looks at the classification of women for social and legal purposes with respect to marriage status--maid, wife or widow--and the consequences for those who did not fit neatly into those categories, as well as the intersectionality of gender categories with social status and age.

This chapter looks at the social construction of women’s categories. “Widow” (and its equivalents in other languages), for example, has varied in meaning across time, and has variously meant “woman with no man to represent her legally”, or “woman with no male source of economic support”. The Christian focus on remarriage versus sexual chastity introduced new concerns and nuances, with “vidua” sometimes indicating a woman under a vow of chastity, with “relicta” distinguishing more generally a woman left behind after a husband’s death.

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