Category Archives: Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month 2022: Separated by Their Sex, Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World by Mary Beth Norton: Book Review

Today’s book review ties into Women’s History Month 2022. Scholarly works detailing the lives of women before the 1800s are not easily found.

However, Mary Beth Norton has written Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World, published in 2011 by Cornell University Press.

Scholarly definitely means well done, but it doesn’t mean difficult to read. Norton’s book is well researched with biographical stories presented in five chapters, covering 182 pages. Lengthy notes are at the end of the book.

Also of interest is that the women’s stories are not just of the American colonies, but also of English women. Hence, ‘Colonial Atlantic World’ in the title.



1. Lady Frances Berkeley and Virginia Politics, 1675-1678 & Mistress Alice Tilly and Her Supporters 1649-1650

2. English Women in the Public Realm, 1642-1653 & Mistress Elinor James and Her Broadsides, 1681-1714

3. John Dunton and the Invention of the Feminine Private & Mistress Sarah Kemble Knight and Her Journal, 1704

4. Women and Politics, Eighteenth Century-
Style & Lady Chatham and Her Correspondents, 1740s-1760s

5. Consolidating the Feminine Private

Conclusion: Defining “Women”

There is a huge amount of historical detail about women of the colonial era – from the disdain that many men displayed towards their petitions for rights to those who assumed leadership roles normally reserved to men.

One of my favorite ladies in this book is Sarah Kemble Knight, who rode the old Boston Post Road alone while traveling to Connecticut and New York to administer the estates of deceased relatives.

I’ve driven that road many times during the years I lived in Rhode Island and can’t imagine a lone woman riding horseback, mostly by herself, for hundreds of miles. And – that she kept a journal of her travels.

I also enjoyed reading the responses to Benjamin Franklin’s Rules and Maxims for Promoting Matrimonial Happiness. His advice definitely was not welcomed by many women.

While the chapter titles might make one think that this book only delves into the lives of upper class women, seen as wielding more power because of their economic situation, that would be an error.

Norton touches on topics that range from politics to friendships to daily life.

Many women in this history remain nameless to time, but their actions indicate that they strongly believed that women’s voices should be heard and that women deserved to be granted rights and opportunities similar to those that men had held for centuries.

Although this book was published in 2011, I had never come across it until recently.  I recommend this book to those who wish to learn more about what life was really like for women who lived during the American and English 17th and 18th centuries.

Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial and Atlantic World by Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University Press, 2011 (Reprint in 2014), can be purchased online for about $22 (new) and $5.00 (Used).

Women & Temperance Societies: Women’s History Month 2022

Did an ancestor of yours have a strong view about the imbibing of alcohol?

The American Roaring 20’s with legal Prohibition imposed by the 18th Constitutional Amendment, (taking effect 17 January 1920), until 5 December 1933, when the 21st Amendment, repealed the 18th Amendment was the pinnacle of success, if one can call it that, for the members of the American Temperance Movement.

The call to abandon the drinking of alcohol was not a new issue in American history. There have always been those who promoted abstention, but there were few, if any, organized efforts until the early 1800s.

Granted, there were men who promoted abstinence from alcohol, but I think membership in temperance societies may have been a much more popular cause for women.

Calais Women’s Temperance Society Picnic, c1890s

This is one of my favorite family photos. See the pole just about in the center of the photo? There are two women, one on each side of the pole. The lady to the left of that pole is my 2X great grandmother, Nellie Tarbox Adams (1856-1927).

Being curious as to whether any records might still exist about the society, I phoned the Calais Free Library. To my surprise, the librarian said they did have some material about the society!

I also contacted the St. Croix Historical Society with the same question.

While pursuing information about the Calais society, I learned that Maine was the first state to try out Prohibition, way back in 1851.

Because temperance societies existed at the local, state and national levels, it would be quite unwieldy to provide a list of links. Instead here are several suggestions about where to search for existing records and historical information:

  1. Search online for either a local town society or state temperance society.
  2. Contact the local public library.
  3. Contact a local or county historical society/museum.
  4. If there is a local genealogy society, it might have information, but I think it is less likely that a genealogy society would have actual records.
  5. Contact the state archives/library.
  6. For general information about temperance society history, search by place + temperance society.
  7. There are also books that have been written about the temperance movement.



Women’s History Month

Sometimes, it’s downright difficult, if not impossible, to locate information about female ancestors. Unless you have had way more success than me, you probably have quite a few ancestors with the last name of (MNU) – maiden name unknown.

This list of resources telling the stories of collective women’s lives throughout American history and of accomplishments of individual women won’t eliminate the (MNU) issue, but may help you put some flesh on the bones of your female ancestors. If you are really lucky, you might find a biography about a direct or collateral line in your family tree.

You may be familiar with names like Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton, but who were Sybil Luddington, Lydia Taft of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Bathsheba Spooner and Elizabeth Blackwell? Each has a story to tell.

These websites, books and other resources, for the most part, aren’t in any particular order, but some of the links, such as suffrage and wartime, are grouped.

Pennsylvania Women in the American Revolution – by William Henry Egle, 1898; link is to PDF in FamilySearch books

DoHistory – Online diary of Martha Ballard from the early 1800s

Representative Women of New England, by Julia Ward Howe, editor, 1904, digital book on HathiTrust

Our Famous Women: Comprising the Lives and Deeds of American Women. . ., by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1883, link on HathiTrust

Profiles of Ohio Women, 1803-2003, by Jacqueline Jones Royster, 2003; HathiTrust has a link to search the book, but check WorldCat for libraries that have the book.

Womenfolk: The Art of Quilting

Index of References to American Women in Colonial Newspapers – Helen F. Evans. This link to HathiTrust provides a search of the three volumes. Check WorldCat to locate libraries that have the books.

Mothers of Maine – by Helen Coffin Beedy, digital copy of the 1895 version. There is a 2012 reprint that can be purchased online.

Botany Mills – factory life in Passaic, New Jersey

Lowell Mill Girls – industrial life in Lowell, Massachusetts

Lowell National Historical Park

The Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History, 1543-1945. 1 :A Bibliographic Guide to the Microform Collection, by Duane R. Bogenschneider, 1983.

To learn about the historical aspects of women’s suffrage, here are some resources with which to begin, but be sure to check for state, county and local resources:

American Women’s Suffrage Collection

Chronicling America – newspaper articles

History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, by Ida Husted Harper, Editor, 1922. Google Books link

Elizabeth Cady Stanton – The History Channel

Susan B. Anthony – The History Channel

The Original March on Washington and the Suffragists Who Paved the Way – The Smithsonian

The Senate Passes the Woman Suffrage Amendment- United States Senate

The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848-1920

“Vote No on Women’s Suffrage: Bizarre Reasons for Not Letting Women Vote”

Wilson and Women’s Suffrage

Woman Suffrage – National Geographic Society

Woman Suffrage – The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Woman Suffrage – The National Museum of American History

Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment – The National Archives

Woman Suffrage Timeline

Women’s Rights National Historical Park

Women’s Suffrage – Wikipedia article includes data from other countries besides the U.S.

Women’s Suffrage – The History Channel

Women and the World Wars:

Library of Congress: On the Homefront – Patriotic Support, America During World War I and World War II

Wikipedia: American Women in World War I

U.S. History: America in the Second World War

The American Homefront During WWI

Americans on the Homefront Helped Win World War I

The U.S. Homefront During World War II

Brown University: What Did You Do in the War Grandma?

In addition to these vintage, out-of-copyright books, there are hundreds, if not thousands of 20th century and 21st century books written about individual women and groups of women, women’s movements through history in just about every location in the United States. Use an internet search engine and/or WorldCat, HathiTrust and GoogleBooks, as many previews can be accessed.