Wife to Widow
520 pages, 6 x 9
2 maps, 38 b&w photos, 18 graphs, 3 tables
Release Date:01 Jan 2012
Release Date:15 Jun 2011
Release Date:01 May 2011

Wife to Widow

Lives, Laws, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Montreal

UBC Press

In Wife to Widow, award-winning historian Bettina Bradbury explores the little studied phenomenon of the transition from wife to widowhood to offer new insights into the law, politics, demography, religion, and domestic life of early nineteenth-century Montreal.

Bradbury's unique history spans the lives of two generations of Montreal women who married either before or after the Patriote rebellions of 1837-38 to reveal a picture of a city and its inhabitants across a period of profound change. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, from church and court records, censuses, and tax documents, to newspapers and pamphlets, Bradbury  shows how women – Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, wealthy and working-class – interacted with and shaped the city's culture, customs, and institutions, even as they laboured under the shifting conditions of patriarchy.

Weaving together the individual biographies of twenty women against the backdrop of the collective genealogy of over 500, Bradbury tells the stories of these women through the traces their actions left in documents and archives. In doing so, she makes an invaluable contribution to the writing on the histories of women, families, cities, law, religion and politics.

A truly monumental study, Wife to Widow is an immensely readable, rigorous, and compelling work.

A compelling study that will capture the attention of historians, sociologists, feminist scholars, political scientists, cultural and social geographers, and anyone with an interest in the changing roles of women across the life-cycle and through history.


  • 2012, Winner - Prix Lionel Groulx, L'Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique francaise
  • 2015, Shortlisted - The François-Xavier Garneau Medal, Canadian HIstorical Association
  • 2012, Winner - Clio Award for Quebec, Canadian Historical Association
  • 2013, Shortlisted - Canada Prize in Social Sciences, Canadian Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 2012, Shortlisted - Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, Canadian Historical Association
  • 2012, Shortlisted - Canadian Political History Book Prize, Canadian Historical Association
This groundbreaking work skillfully employs a sophisticated and nuanced analysis of traditional demographic, legal, and manuscript sources to explore the lives of two generations of women as they navigated their way through the often difficult transition from wife to widow in nineteenth-century Montreal. Highly readable, Bettina Bradbury offers us a fine example of how to get at and illuminate the lives and experiences of ordinary folk. Wife to Widow is family history of the best kind. Jane Errington, Dean of Arts and member of the Departments of History, Royal Military College and Queen's University
The first study of widowhood in Canada, this is a truly impressive undertaking. It tracks the dual heritages of the English and French legal systems, the rich cultural mixture of distinctive social customs, the ways in which couples tailored spousal relations of authority and property, the class configurations that shaped widows’ realities, and the gender issues that underlay everything else. The book will reconfigure our deepest understandings of women’s history, family history, class history, and Quebec history. Constance Backhouse, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa
Bettina Bradbury is an award-winning historian who teaches history and women's studies at York University.


Part 1: Marriage, Identity, and the Law

1 Marriage Metropole: Mobility and Marriage in Early-Nineteenth-Century Montreal

2 Companionate Patriarchies: Money Matters and Marriage

3 Marriage Trajectories: Class, Choices, and Chance

4 “Dower This Barbarous Law”: Debating Marriage and Widows’ Rights

5 Imagining Widowhood and Death: Marriage Contracts, Wills, and Funeral Provisions

Part 2: Individual Itineraries of Widowhood

6 Diverse Demographies: Death, Widowhood, and Remarriage

7 In the Shadow of Their Husbands: The First Days of Widowhood

8 “Within a Year and a Day”: The First Year of Widowhood

9 Widows’ Votes: Marguerite Paris, Émilie Tavernier, Sarah Harrison, and the Montreal By-Elections of 1832

10 Widow to Mother Superior: Émilie Tavernier Gamelin and Catholic Institution Building

11 Patchworks of the Possible: Widows’ Wealth, Work, and Children

12 Final Years, Final Wishes: Care, Connections, Old Age and Death





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