Department or Program



The historical narrative of colonial Virginia has traditionally been that of a testosterone-fueled society of aggressive men competing to make a profit from tobacco. Accounts of seventeenth-century Virginia rarely include references to female settlers, and those that do merely mention the skewed gender ratio during the first century. However, a female presence was critical to Virginia’s transition from economic outpost to settlement. Although their numbers were limited, women played essential roles in the social fabric of early Virginia society. Men on both sides of the Atlantic believed that there was a direct correlation between women’s behavior and the future stability of the colony. In their efforts to establish patriarchal order within the colony, men strictly regulated women’s actions. In an environment that lacked many of the traditional English social, religious and political structures, gender roles appeared surprisingly analogous to those in England. However, differences in Virginia’s institutional development such as the system of indentured servitude and the high mortality rates influenced the emergence of new patterns of gendered interactions. This thesis explores the question of Virginian exceptionalism by looking at gender in an attempt to understand the extent to which a distinctive environment in Virginia led to similarly distinct gender norms. Using court records and early legislation, I examine women in their conventional positions as servants, wives, and widows and highlight the ways that women violated these norms.

Level of Access

Open Access

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.