The Women Of The House

Written by Jean Zimmerman
Review by Juliet Waldron

In 1695, twenty-two-year-old Margaret Hardenbroeck arrived in the colony of New Amsterdam. Margaret wasn’t anyone’s dependent, but a factor, a representative of her uncle’s trading firm, assigned to collect money from his customers and seek buyers for his merchandise. In Holland, women, even married ones, were legal persons, able to own property, draw contracts and testify in court. After the British took over (renaming the busy port “New York”), this equality between the sexes disappeared. The Women of the House is a well-researched and vibrantly written history which follows the fortunes of Margaret and of her descendants, who are better known by her second husband’s name: Philipse. The section devoted to Margaret and to the uniquely Dutch customs of the 17th century colony is particularly informative and lively. The three Philipse descendants who come after their dynamic founding mother are a far more conventional story. The last of these still formidable women, Mary Philipse, rejected the suit of a young George Washington in favor of a British officer. During the Revolution, the Philipses remained loyal to the Crown. In 1783 they fled, leaving their mansions and estates behind. A fascinating read, with extensive notes and bibliography.