Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Mary Lou Lustig.


The European settlers who emigrated to America in the seventeenth century were decidedly patriarchal. Nevertheless, significant cultural differences in expressions of patriarchy among them existed. Specifically, the Dutch of New Netherland defined the gendered roles of women differently than did other European cultures. More than deputy-husbands, but less than full partner, seventeenth-century Dutch women in New Netherland were integral to the survival and promotion of their families' interests and preservation of the colony. English expropriation of New Netherland in 1664 and permanent acquisition in 1674 inaugurate a process of patriarchal acculturation that over time submerged the roles of Dutch women. However, it did not obliterate them.;Family was the basic unit in Dutch society and Dutch law in New Netherland, which mirrored the jurisprudence of Holland, reinforced family structure. Specifically, Dutch law reinforced social stability through laws affecting marriage. As an institution that came under civil law, marriage could be legally dissolved. Nevertheless, most wives appear in court records as defenders and promoters of their family's interests. Therefore, the paradox of seventeenth-century Dutch women was that while their primary roles were wives and mothers, they exercised considerable independence within marriage. Owing to the commercial orientation of New Netherland, decision making by wives was important to the viability of New Netherland and New York economy in the seventeenth century.;New Netherland was founded during the golden age of Dutch commerce. Most histories of that age have focused on transoceanic trade, but local commerce was also important particularly for wives. In a population drawn together in close proximity by geography, historically many wives were formally and informally involved in local commerce as shopkeepers, teachers, and occasional traders. As a consequence, young women were educated and trained early for a married life that involved commerce.;This work shows the behavior of women in New Netherland was governed by distinctive social, legal, and cultural expectations that governed the lives of Dutch women in the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Specific focus on Dutch women emphasizes the significance of the diversity of culture and gender identities in early America.