Women in rural society: Peasants, patriarchy and the local economy in Northeast France, 1650–1789

Elise Dermineur, Purdue University


This dissertation investigates gender relationships and the role of women in French rural society in the seventeenth and eighteenth century from two different perspectives—economic (part one) and socio-legal (part two). I not only show female peasants' social importance as I demonstrate that they had a prominent role not only within their respective households but also within their communities, but I also demonstrate that women were not as passive and submissive as the traditional historiography and common assumptions have asserted. Female peasants had rights, prerogatives, and opinions of their own and consequently challenged the paradigm of patriarchy. Indeed, I emphasize the huge gap between theory—a patriarchal society in which women had no power and no rights especially over money—and practice—women as moneylenders and borrowers, managing their households and their estates. Using gender as a category of historical analysis, this dissertation explores how female peasants had an extremely significant position both in the market economy and within their households and communities, notably through the study of notarial and justice records. Throughout the eighteenth century, their role in the circulation of capital and property through the credit system and the land market contradicts the common assumption that early modern women had no place and say in the extra domestic sphere. As the justice records indicate, female peasants were also very active in the defense of their assets, social position and prerogatives. Here, women braved patriarchy and found a relative equilibrium in their relations with men. The experience of women in rural early modern France illustrate some of the ways emerging social practices modified and altered the traditional patriarchal model, therefore adjusting the social practices to the economic and social context while skirting around legal norms. The findings of this dissertation undermine patriarchal ideology, indicative of a change in gender relations during the early modern period and contribute to a recent historiography analyzing the theory and practice of patriarchy.




Farr, Purdue University.

Subject Area

European history|Womens studies

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