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Is a Spinster an Unmarried Woman?

Is a Spinster an Unmarried Woman? Is a Spinster an Unmarried Woman? by CAROL Z. WIENER * The statement "All bachelors are unmarried men" has long been the philosophy professor's favorite example of a tautology, but the statement "All spinsters are unmarried women" would be no tau tology, at least not for certain Elizabethan and early Stuart records. In the course of a study of Quarter Sessions records in Hertfordshire from 1589 through 1603, ten cases have appeared in which a woman or several women who are involved in a crime are described as spinsters although they are married. The 33 women included represent half of all the married women indicted at Hert­ fordshire Quarter Sessions during this period, 26% of all the indicted women.' Why was such a significant proportion of the indictments of women handled in this way? What was a married spinster? Etymologists might reply that a married spinster is one who makes a living by spinning, but the records do not substantiate this hypothesis. If "spinster" were a description of occupation rather than marital status, we would expect it to be applied to men, at least on some occasions. There is, however, not one man described as spinster, or indeed spinner, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Journal of Legal History Oxford University Press

Is a Spinster an Unmarried Woman?

American Journal of Legal History , Volume 20 (1) – Jan 1, 1976

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
Copyright 1976 Temple University. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
ISSN
0002-9319
eISSN
2161-797X
DOI
10.2307/844848
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Is a Spinster an Unmarried Woman? by CAROL Z. WIENER * The statement "All bachelors are unmarried men" has long been the philosophy professor's favorite example of a tautology, but the statement "All spinsters are unmarried women" would be no tau tology, at least not for certain Elizabethan and early Stuart records. In the course of a study of Quarter Sessions records in Hertfordshire from 1589 through 1603, ten cases have appeared in which a woman or several women who are involved in a crime are described as spinsters although they are married. The 33 women included represent half of all the married women indicted at Hert­ fordshire Quarter Sessions during this period, 26% of all the indicted women.' Why was such a significant proportion of the indictments of women handled in this way? What was a married spinster? Etymologists might reply that a married spinster is one who makes a living by spinning, but the records do not substantiate this hypothesis. If "spinster" were a description of occupation rather than marital status, we would expect it to be applied to men, at least on some occasions. There is, however, not one man described as spinster, or indeed spinner,

Journal

American Journal of Legal HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 1976

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