Based largely on the book of the same name, the blog is a kind of trailer for it and the primary source material it contains. An invitation, you might say … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … and to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

The women featured lived between 1765 and 1799. But once you attune your ears to their way of writing, their voices easily leapfrog across the centuries. Read just a few sentences and you’ll find yourself back in time, entering their concerns, sharing their feelings. And what they have to say is always fascinating, often eye-opening, sometimes heart-rending.

Please bookmark the blog and visit regularly to see which writers and issues are being featured. There are two new posts weekly: on Monday and Thursday. And do explore those related to the many topics listed on the right. In addition to posts based on the book, others introduce the writings of women who didn’t make it into the book or who turn up as a result of ongoing research. To subscribe via email, click here. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your visits.

A Midwife Explains it All (1671)

For this post I am flouting all the rules I set for myself regarding sources and time period, but I just couldn’t resist. You will perhaps see why as you read on. The setting is England rather than America and the time is 1671 not the mid to late eighteenth century. The article titled “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” written by midwife JANE SHARP appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly and was listed on the Two Nerdy HIstory Girls Breakfast Links for the week of October 3. This blog has of course included posts about midwives and the women who used them but this article is such a hoot I had to share it with my readers.


Young women especially of their first child are so ignorant commonly that they cannot tell whether they have conceived or not, and not one of twenty almost keeps a just account, else they would be better provided against the time of their lying-in, and not so suddenly be surprised as many of them are.

Wherefore physicians have laid down rules whereby to know when a woman has conceived with child, and these rules are drawn from almost all parts of the body. The rules are too general to be certainly proved in all women, yet some of them seldom fail in any.

First, if when the seed is cast into the womb she feel the womb shut close and a shivering or trembling to run through every part of her body, that is by reason of the heat that draws inward to keep the conception and so leaves the outward parts cold and chill.

Secondly, the pleasure she takes at that time is extraordinary, and the man’s seed comes not forth again, for the womb closely embraces it and will shut as fast as possibly may be.

Thirdly, the womb sinks down to cherish the seed, and so the belly grows flatter than it was before.

Fourthly, she finds pain that goes about her belly, chiefly about her navel and lower belly, which some call the watercourse.

Fifthly, her stomach becomes very weak, she has no desire to eat her meat, but is troubled with belchings.

Sixthly, her monthly terms stop at some unseasonable time that she looked not for.

Seventhly, she has a preternatural desire to something not fit to eat nor drink, as some women with child have longed to bite off a piece of their husband’s buttocks.

Eightly, her breasts swell and grow round and hard and painful.

Ninthly, she has no great desire to copulation, for some time she will be merry or sad suddenly upon no manifest cause.

Tenthly, she so loathes her victuals that let her but exercise her body a little in motion, and she will cast off what lies upon her stomach.

Eleventhly, her nipples will look more red at the ends than they usually do.

Twelfthly, the veins of her breasts will swell and show themselves very plain to be seen.

Thirteenthly, likewise the veins about the eyes will be more apparent.

Fourteenthly, the womb pressing the right gut, it is painful for her to go to stool, she is weaker than she was, and her visage discolored.

These are the common rules that are laid down.

But if a woman’s courses be stopped and the veins under her lowest eyelid swell and the color be changed and she has not broken her rest by watching the night before, these signs seldom or never fail of conception for the first two months.

If you keep her water three days close stopped in a glass and then strain it through a fine linen cloth, you will find live worms in the cloth.

Also, a needle laid twenty-four hours in her urine will be full of red spots if she has conceived, or otherwise it will be black or dark colored.

For those of you who have been pregnant did you ever feel like doing what is mentioned in Number 7?

posted October 24th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth, Midwives

“I see every prospect of our being comfortable”

ANN HEAD WARDER went back to England in July 1787 and returned to live permanently in the United States in October 1788. She describes the house she and her family were to occupy.

10 mo. 5th.—. . . . The house pleased me, being exceedingly convenient, though larger than I wished, it having four rooms on a floor—Kitchen, counting house and two parlors on the first floor, eight bedrooms and two garrets. Many handy closets. A small yard and beyond it another grass plot, good stable and chaise house, so that I see every prospect of our being comfortable. . . .

10 mo. 11th.—Went to market, at six o’clock to procure provisions towards housekeeping. . . . The difference in prices of things here and London is striking. . . . After breakfast purchased hand [?and] irons, to use for burning wood, all the chimneys being too low for stoves; some glass ware &c.

10 mo. 14th.—Arose early and sent off the balance of our things at mother’s, and after breakfast went to our house. We had for dinner a rump of beef, apple pie and vegetables. My husband seemed to think he had not for a long time eat a sweeter morsel, and I also felt comfortable, but not so much as hope to be when things are more settled. Only one bed up so the children had to sleep on the floor in the same room with us.

10th mo. 27th.—Today at dinner I entertained by fellow passengers. We had roast turkey, a tongue laid in mashed potatoes, whip’d sallybubs, oyster pie, boiled leg of pork, bread pudding and tarts. We had an early dish of tea for the old folks who left escorted by my husband.

Ann Warder lived in Philadelphia until her death in 1829. She and her husband had ten children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. Thanks to her we have an idea of what life in Philadelphia was like in the years 1786-88.

“Extracts from the Diary of Mrs. Ann Warder,” 62-63, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XVII, 1893, No. 1.

posted October 20th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Daily life, Food, Philadelphia, Quakers, Warder, Ann Head

“condemned to hard labor instead of execution”

During her stay in Philadelphia in 1786-87 ANN HEAD WARDER described in her diary a sight that didn’t seem to disturb her very much.

3 mo. 30th. [1787]—The convicts here have recently been condemned to hard labor instead of execution, and now clean the streets. They have an iron collar around their neck and waist to which a long chain is fashioned and at the end a heavy ball. As they proceed with their work this is taken up and thrown before them. Their clothing is a mixture of dark blue and brown stuff; their heads shaved; they wear parti colored woolen caps, so that an attempt to escape would early be discovered. A guard accompanies each gang. At first the prisoners were much averse to this shameful exposure, and preferred death to it. Two things I think need regulating, suffering people to talk to them, and to prevent their receiving money.

As the states began to limit the number of crimes that warranted the death penalty they were faced with an increase in convicted criminals. Confining them in jails where they would often work at hard labor was one option. There was another: an experiment in Pennsylvania that involved both shaming and hard labor which were thought to be reformative. The Wheelbarrow Law was enacted in 1786; it required convicts to labor in the streets during the day, just as described by Ann Warder, and be housed in jails at night. Although the law was copied by other states it was soon deemed a failure. Fights broke out among the convicts and/or with the public; passersby jeered or cheered them.

In 1790, an addition to the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia was built based on a concept put forward by Quakers. Prisoners were housed in individual cells—formerly they had lived together in large rooms—where, in basically solitary confinement, they were expected to reflect on their crimes and repent. It was the first state penitentiary (from the Latin, meaning remorse or penitence) in the country, shown in the illustration in 1800.

“Extracts from the Diary of Mrs. Ann Warder,” 61, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XVII, 1893, No. 1. For information about the Philadelphia treatment of convicts see Wheelbarrow Law. For information about the “reform” in Pennsylvania’s prison system see HERE. The illustration can be found HERE.

posted October 17th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Philadelphia, Prisoners, Warder, Ann Head

A Quaker wedding: “the couple signed the certificate”

Among the events ANN HEAD WARDER attended during her visit to the United States in 1786-87 was a Quaker wedding. The diary entry is dated 1 mo. 9th, which in the Quaker notation means first month, that is January, on the 9th day. The year was 1787.

A dull wet morning and bad prospect for Elliston Perot’s wedding guests. . . . On entering [the meeting house] found most of the wedding company present, among whom I sat. Cousin Betsy Roberts first said a few words, then honest Robert Willis, soon after which Betsy appeared in supplication and William Savery followed with a long and fine testimony. The bride and groom performed, the latter exceedingly well, and the former very bad. Meeting closed early when the couple signed the certificate, the woman taking upon her her husband’s name. We then proceeded to Elliston’s house but a short distance from the meeting, where about forty-eight friends were assembled. We were ushered up stairs where cake and wine were served, and Joey Sansom in helping with two decanters of Bitters, and glasses on a waiter, spilt the wine over his sister’s wedding garments, much to his embarrassment. The next disaster was, that some of the fresh paint [on the chairs] ruined a number of gowns. At two o’clock we were summoned to dinner and all were seated at a horse-shoe shaped table . . . except . . . the groomsmen [who] waited on us. . . . We had an abundant entertainment—almost every thing that the season produced. After dinner we adjourned up stairs, and chatted away the afternoon, the young folks innocently cheerful and the old ones not less so. Tea was made in another room and sent to us. At nine o’clock we were called to supper, after which the guests prepared to return to their homes.

A lot of eating and drinking and visiting. I attended my niece’s Quaker wedding. The bride and groom signed the certificate as did all of the people who were present. An official document as well as a wonderful remembrance.

“Extracts from the Diary of Mrs. Ann Warder,” 58-59, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XVII, 1893, No. 1. The Quaker wedding dress illustrated, dated 1809, is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The dress is beautiful in its simplicity, no added adornments or decorations as was the Quaker custom.

posted October 13th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes, Fashion, Marriage, Quakers, Warder, Ann Head

“not keeping to the plain language”

ANN HEAD WARDER continued her rounds of visiting family and friends in and around Philadelphia when she traveled to the United States with her husband John in 1786. A Quaker, she frequently remarked on behavior or practices she considered inappropriate or different from what she was used to in England.

9th mo. 26th.—. . . . At 8 o’clock went to meeting again. Sammy Emlen came in and began in public testimony—that he met some girls walking the streets and asked after their families and was told “they are pretty well, thank you.” This introduced some close doctrine respecting not keeping to the plain language, which indeed it seems as if the young folks have almost forgotten here. . . .

9th mo, 29th.—[A]t meeting friend Nicholas Wain stood up and reprobated with much solemnity the practice of young people being suffered to intermix with improper company, which indeed is carried to an abominable extent in some parts of the country.

10th mo. 8th.—Went to the Market street meeting which was very thin. . . . The women today commenced to wear winter clothing, though to me it is far from being cold. I however, put on a cloak not to appear singular, for some had long ones down to their toes, but no hoods, a lay collar instead which would look very disagreeable to me but for the cape to their bonnet hiding the neck. Blacks are more worn here than with us—no brown except cloth.

12th mo. 2d.—. . . . Jerry, Lydia and Sally invited to dine with Dr. Hutchinson and wife, which as they had been married by a priest would be hardly orthodox with us, but here much too many make no distinction, paying them just the same respect. . . . I think the evil consequences of mixed marriages are reduced in the view of some young minds, who perhaps become entangled in this improper way at some of these places. . . . In the evening sister M____ came in when we had a long conversation on this subject, to which dress was introduced, when I warmly reprobated the too general practice of people here making such figures in the morning and when out such a show you scarcely know them.

12th mo. 6th.—. . . . [A]fter dinner . . . out sleighing, which I found much more agreeable than expected. We met several parties starting out as we returned. This pastime is abused; large parties collect and riotly go together to taverns where they sup and return at all hours of the night.

In the next post Ann Warder attends a Quaker wedding.

“Extracts from the Diary of Mrs. Ann Warder” 52, 53, 56, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XVII, 1893, No. 1.

posted October 10th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes, Philadelphia, Quakers, Warder, Ann Head

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