“The Curator’s Wife” Review: Divided Loyalties

The Revolutionary War freed Americans from the oppressive colonial rule of the British, but in the early postwar period it was unclear to what extent women benefited from the hard-won freedoms afforded to men. Wives were still subject to the English common law of hedging, which gave husbands control of their property; women had virtually no political rights. Did the Revolution change anything?

Cynthia Kierner, a history professor at George Mason University, examines this question in “The Tory’s Wife.” Her short, readable volume tells the story of Jane Welborn Spurgin, a farm wife and mother of 13, in the woods of North Carolina. Aside from the fact that she was literate, there was nothing particularly remarkable about Jane. She didn’t move in elite circles and she certainly wasn’t famous. Yet she publicly asserted her rights as a citizen of the new American republic in a series of petitions to the state legislature. Ms. Kierner’s interest in Jane stems from her scholarly interest in how the war drew ordinary women into the political sphere.

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