Women were granted power over money, land, and other assets from their deceased husband's inheritance as widows. Widows frequently used this authority gently to secure both their own and their children's well-being (Conger 246). They could also use it aggressively if necessary; for example, if a widow found her husband's will unfair she might challenge it in court.
In Plymouth society, women were expected to remain unmarried until they died or married again. If they had no children then their estates would be given to relatives or friends. The few women who did marry usually chose men with enough property to provide for them (Lodge 704).
Women had many more opportunities than today. For example, they could work at any job that men could have, including fighting, fishing, farming, and trading. Also, they were not forced into marriage - if a woman did not like what her suitor offered, he could be rejected. Finally, women had more freedom than people realize. For example, they could travel alone without male protection or permission from family members.
There were two types of schools in Plymouth: the parish school and the private school. All children between the ages of five and fourteen attended the parish school. This school was generally run by a priest and taught by local residents.
Because widows had a somewhat unclear function as both mother and father, as well as husband and wife, they were expected to serve in both roles (Conger 247). If there were no children, the widow would become the legal owner of this property.
In order for them to receive this property, however, they needed to prove that they were indeed a widow. This could be done by remarrying within a certain period of time or by showing that they had been convicted of murder or felony treason against their husband. If they were able to meet these requirements, then they would be granted his estate. Otherwise, it would go to others according to the rules established by law (Conger 248).
The majority of widows in early Plymouth Colony were English women who traveled to the colony with their sons. They often took on some sort of leadership position among the colonists. Some became teachers, while others served as nurses or midwives. A few even went so far as to claim land for themselves. However, most women remained within the bounds of religious life by serving at prayer meetings and serving on church committees. They also played an important role in raising children since there were not many young men in the colony at the time (Conger 249-50).
Depending on local custom, the lady may be allowed to leave the land to her heirs when she dies. Women were frequently granted permission to utilize real estate (land), jewels, and clothes that belonged to a male relative, who had the right to retrieve it as needed. The grantor could require the recipient to give evidence of his or her ownership before he or she would release the property.
As time passed, women began to assert more control over their own affairs. They could now hold titles to land, use its income, collect rents, and make contracts. Some women even managed large estates together. But they still couldn't vote or hold public office and were usually excluded from religious rites and rituals.
In the Catholic Church, women's properties became part of their husbands' estates after marriage. If the husband died without making a will, these possessions would be distributed according to Roman law. If he died testate (by will), then the wife would receive everything he owned at the time of death.
Women also used their property themselves for personal expenses or investments. For example, they might hire workers using money earned from rent or sales. Or they might build up a small fortune by saving out of their monthly allowances. When the time was right, they might sell their property and use the money to start a business or add to an existing one.