A History of Stepfamilies in Early America

By Lisa Wilson

172 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, appends., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1842-5
    Published: October 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-1843-2
    Published: October 2014
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4503-0
    Published: October 2014

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Stepfamilies are not a modern phenomenon, but despite this reality, the history of stepfamilies in America has yet to be fully explored. In the first book-length work on the topic, Lisa Wilson examines the stereotypes and actualities of colonial stepfamilies and reveals them to be important factors in early United States domestic history. Remarriage was a necessity in this era, when war and disease took a heavy toll, all too often leading to domestic stress, and cultural views of stepfamilies during this time placed great strain on stepmothers and stepfathers. Both were seen either as unfit substitutes or as potentially unstable influences, and nowhere were these concerns stronger than in white middle-class families, for whom stepparents presented a paradox.

Wilson shares the stories of real stepfamilies in early New England, investigating the relationship between prejudice and lived experience, and, in the end, offers a new way of looking at family units throughout history and the cultural stereotypes that still affect stepfamilies today.

About the Author

Lisa Wilson is the Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of American history at Connecticut College.
For more information about Lisa Wilson, visit the Author Page.


"Fascinating…adds…delicious detail to the story of family ideology in American political discourse."--Books & Culture

“Pathbreaking, elegant, and well-researched.”--New England Quarterly

“We know that stepfamilies were common in early America, but somehow no one focuses on these families specifically as stepfamilies. Wilson does.”--William and Mary Quarterly

“Places stepfamilies in historicized context, tracing them through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and exploring the lives of stepfamily members as lived experience examined against contemporary prohibitions and social norms.”--The Journal of American History

"Well-researched and fascinating, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America does a fine job of challenging enduring stereotypes and contributes to current-day conversations about the experiences of children, women, and men within stepfamilies."--Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

"Wilson tackles an unquestionably important topic at the intersection of the history of the family, the history of childhood, gender history, and a range of other subjects. This book will assuredly launch a sustained historiographical discussion about the complexity of American familism in the past and present."--Wayne Bodle, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Multimedia & Links

She has won the Homer D. Babbidge Jr. Award and the Phi Alpha Theta book award for Ye Heart of a Man: The Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England (Yale University Press, 1999). She is also the author of Life After Death: Widows in Pennsylvania, 1750-1850 (Temple University Press, 1992).

Listen: Wilson talks to Liz Covart for the Ben Franklin's World podcast series. (4/27/2015, running time 42:51).