I've started reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Northern New England Women, 1650-1750, which is just as mesmerizing as I'd hoped. Part 1 opens with a long epigraph from Proverbs 31--the King James Bible version of the "Who can find a virtuous woman" passage, a blueprint for Puritan women. Here's an excerpt:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.In other words, to quote Virginia Lee Burton's Katie and the Big Snow, "Katie was big and strong, and she could do a lot of things."
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
In other words, to quote my poem "The Skillet Toss," "Men are proud to have a wife who can / fracture skulls, if she thinks it's worth her while."
As Ulrich writes, "The Puritans called this paragon 'Bathsheba,' assuming rather logically that Solomon [the supposed author of Proverbs] could only have learned such an appreciation for huswifery from his mother."