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date: 02 March 2024

Widows and Widowhood 

Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia Women in World History
Author(s):
Lyndan WarnerLyndan Warner, Martha Alter ChenMartha Alter Chen, Paul S. RoppPaul S. Ropp, Deborah M. MerrillDeborah M. Merrill

This entry consists of two subentries:

Comparative History

Contemporary Issues

The experience of widowhood begins with the death of a husband. In India, China, and Muslim nations and across Europe and North America, marriage was virtually “till death do us part” until the beginning of the twentieth century because divorce initiated by a wife was either not permitted or very rare. Beyond the universal fact of a husband's death, each nation, tribe, religion, class, and historical era has treated widowhood differently. The choices or constraints shaping a widow's experience were closely related to her age, whether she had children, and her society's attitudes to remarriage. In some places and times she was under pressure to remain a chaste and “perpetual wife” to her deceased husband. A widow's legal status as well as her rights to property and inheritance affected her opportunities for independence and whether she would live in comfort or struggle with poverty.... ...

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