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Entangled Lives

Labor, Livelihood, and Landscapes of Change in Rural Massachusetts

Marla R. Miller

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An enlightening look at American women's work in the late eighteenth century.

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…

An enlightening look at American women's work in the late eighteenth century.

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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Entangled Lives

Marla R. Miller

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Reviews

Reviews

Marla Miller has emerged as a preeminent scholar of eighteenth-century American women's work and has done perhaps more than any other single recent historian to challenge our assumptions and reshape our understanding of the character and significance of women's labor in early America. This rich microhistory of a place over time is a study of the best kind, with women at the center of the picture. Miller compels us to regard class, gender, and race in the early American North with fresh insight.

With a sharp eye and a sensitive ear, Miller provides us with access to the spaces where women worked, courted, and took care of the sick. As we eavesdrop on intimate conversations and witness changes in the material worlds of women's labor, we gain a beautifully detailed picture of an early nineteenth century New England village poised for economic transformation.

Deftly weaving together archival and material sources, Entangled Lives makes clear that women's history is not simply part of early American economic history; it is inseparable from it. Miller's skillful reconstruction of the intertwined, quotidian labor practices of white, black, and indigenous women in New England will particularly delight readers yearning for local histories in the midst of the global turn.

As one of the best historians of women and work, Marla Miller writes lovingly, but unsparingly, of a place she holds dear. Entangled Lives models an intersectional social history for the twenty-first century: empathetic towards its subjects, yet clear-eyed about the overlapping inequalities their lives reflected and too often reproduced.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
384
ISBN
9781421432748
Illustration Description
17 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

List of Figures
Foreword, by Cathy Matson
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Placings
Part I: Women, Work, and Community
Chapter 1: From Nolwotogg to Hadley
Chapter 2: Women, Work, and the Business

List of Figures
Foreword, by Cathy Matson
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Placings
Part I: Women, Work, and Community
Chapter 1: From Nolwotogg to Hadley
Chapter 2: Women, Work, and the Business of Gentility: The View from Forty Acres
Chapter 3: Women, Work, and "Economies of Makeshifts": The View from the Back Street
Part II: Livelihoods  
Chapter 4: Domestic Service
Chapter 5: Making Cloth
Chapter 6: Hospitality Work
Chapter 7: Healing and Caregiving
Part III: Topographies of Change
Chapter 8: Working Women and the Domestic Landscapes of Forty Acres
Chapter 9: New Labor, New Landscapes
Coda: Remembering Women and Work
Abbreviations
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Marla Miller
Featured Contributor

Marla Miller

Marla R. Miller is the director of the Public History Program and a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of The Needle's Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution and Betsy Ross and the Making of America.