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date: 21 April 2024

Widows and Widowhood 

The Oxford Encyclopedia Women in World History
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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