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Journal Article

"The Best or None!" Spinsterhood in Nineteenth-Century New England

Zsuzsa Berend
Journal of Social History
Vol. 33, No. 4 (Summer, 2000), pp. 935-957
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3789171
Page Count: 23
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"The Best or None!" Spinsterhood in Nineteenth-Century New England
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Abstract

The article explores the seemingly paradoxical connection between the idealization of love and marriage and the reluctance of many women to marry in nineteenth-century New England. Arguing against interpretations that view nineteenth-century singlehood as a proto-feminist stance, it situates spinsterhood in the context of the Victorian elevation and spiritualization of love and marriage as well as of a religiously grounded understanding of morality and usefulness. Searching for vocation in the world was a moral imperative for these spinsters who believed that their lives served a higher purpose. They drew on moral resources made available by their understanding of women's distinctive nature and special mission. Using letters, diaries, memoirs, and biographies, this study documents women's decisions about marriage and work, as well as the changing cultural conceptualization of spinsterhood.

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