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‘To enjoy for her widowhood’: Gender, age, and landholding in eighteenth-century England.

Event type
British History in the Long 18th Century
Event dates
, 5:15PM - 7:15PM
Online- via Zoom
Josh Rhodes (Institute of Historical Research)
Email only

Women farmers have often been overlooked in the broad scholarship on women and property in the eighteenth century, with a greater focus on women’s ownership than their occupation of land. The kinds of records that have been so fruitful in studies of large-scale female landowners or indeed, the few on wealthy women farmers – diaries, letters, and account books – are not available to help us reconstruct non-elite women’s experience of landholding. Using a new approach, drawing on poor rates, taxes levied on the occupiers of land, this paper reconstructs the landholding histories of every woman farming land across the eighteenth century in the community of Puddletown, Dorset. It finds that overall women held land for less time than men, farmed slightly smaller holdings, and were less likely to increase the size of their farms. However, it shows that all of these differences are accounted for by age rather than gender because most women landholders were widows, and therefore generally older than their male counterparts. In fact, men and women of similar ages pursued similar landholding strategies. Younger widows expanded their farming enterprises as did young men, while women widowed at an older age were more likely to scale back their holdings in the same fashion as elderly or widowed men. By situating women’s management of land within an age framework, this paper challenges existing conceptions of women’s economic agency that are predicated on a normative model of capitalist development, in which accumulation, expansion and financial success are privileged to the exclusion of alternative, but no less rational strategies.

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