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The Free Women of Petersburg Status and Culture in a Southern Town 1784-1861 was written by Suzanne Lebsock in 1984 and won the Bancroft Prize in 1985 Lebsock focuses on Petersburg Virginia between 1784 and 1860 to recount the status of women in society and how that status changed She also examines the views of women during that time The author did extensive research of Petersburg local records to obtain a comprehensive study of the female culture during the antebellum years Lesbock discusses the institution of marriage in great detail The author found that women married for economic reasons as well as romantic feelings In years past marriage was based on economic value By the early nineteenth century however romance was beginning to lead The author explains companionate marriage as a term used by some historians of the family to describe a new marriage pattern that allegedly took hold in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries primarily in the middle class Companionate marriage was for love and involved mutual respect and a degree of equality among partners However studies show most of the women would not have classified their marriages as companionate This was not all due to their husbands actions The laws of the time gave the husband rights to the wifes services and to any property she owned at the time of marriage The wifes only legal right was the receipt of a dower in the event of her husbands death A dower included one-third of her husbands personal property and the use of one-third of his real estate and slavesLesbocks analysis of remarriage showed that the majority of women who were wealthy enough to support themselves when widowed would remain unmarried She states remarriage patterns of Petersburgs widows suggest that some sort of generalization is called for the reluctance of wealthier widows to marry again suggests that in the eyes of women themselves something had gone wrong with marriageSeparate estates for women were
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