The Women of the House
About the book:
The remarkable Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse arrived in New Amsterdam from Holland in 1659, a brash and ambitious twenty-two-year-old bent on making her way in the New World. She promptly built an empire of trading ships, furs, and real estate that included all of Westchester County. The Dutch called such women "she-merchants," and Margaret became the wealthiest in the colony, while raising five children and keeping a spotless linen closet.
Zimmerman deftly traces the astonishing rise of Margaret and the Philipse women who followed her, who would transform Margaret’s storehouse on the banks of the Hudson into a veritable mansion, Philipse Manor Hall. The last Philipse to live there, Mary Philipse Morris—the It-girl of mid-1700s New York—was even courted by George Washington. But privilege couldn’t shelter the family from the Revolution, which raged on Mary’s doorstep.
Mining extensive primary sources, Zimmerman brings us into the parlors, bedrooms, countinghouses, and parties of early colonial America and vividly restores a forgotten group of women to life.
About the author:
JEAN ZIMMERMAN is the author of four books, including Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth. She lives just north of Philipse Manor Hall in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Click here to download the discussion guide for Women of the House.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What personality traits and experiences made Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse a successful businesswoman? Was she ahead of her time or a product of it?
2. How did Margaret and Frederick act as a team? Could she have been so successful on her own? How was mercantilism different for men and women during Margaret’s time?
3. Although Margaret came to New Amsterdam as a trader’s representative, she rose to become a trader in her own right and continued to expand her business ventures. How did she adapt her strategies to the new opportunities she encountered?
4. How did the British takeover of New Amsterdam change the colony economically, socially, religiously, and politically? What are some of the ways in which this cultural change is demonstrated in The Women of the House? What cultural influences from both the Dutch and British colonial periods are evident in contemporary New York?
5. Slavery is often considered as solely a “Southern problem” in American history; however, slavery was clearly prevalent in the New York colony. What differences were there between slavery in New Amsterdam and slavery in the South, in terms of tasks and owners’ expectations? Does the fact that the Philipse women owned slaves affect your feelings about them? If so, how?
6. Why do you think that Catherine Van Cortland Philipse chose to free her two slaves upon her death? What does this act say about her feelings about slavery in general?
7. In comparison to her predecessor Margaret’s great successes, Catherine’s main achievement—building Philipsburg Church—could be considered a very different kind of accomplishment. How did Catherine’s efforts and vision for the church reflect the changing social mores of her time?
8. How did Joanna Brockholst Philipse’s lifestyle, interests, and values mirror the changes that occurred between her heyday and Catherine’s?
9. How would Mary’s life have been different had she married George Washington? Did Mary and her husband’s decision to remain as Loyalists stem from their own convictions, from ambivalence, or from pragmatism?
10. In the book, as each generation of the Philipse dynasty passes to the next, there are major changes that affect how the fortune is distributed and inherited. How does the practice of inheritance evolve over the four women’s lives? Why?
11. Does Zimmerman seem to have a particular agenda in writing about the Philipse women? If so, what do you think it is? Does she accomplish her goal?
12. How does reading The Women of the House affect your view of colonial history? In what ways does it affect your view of women’s history? Is this a feminist story? Are any of the Philipse women more or less innovative than the others? In the Colonial period, what qualities, strengths and weaknesses, or characteristics empowered women?
13. Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey are two contemporary examples of incredibly successful business women. Compare Margaret to these female tycoons; in what ways were she and her tactics similar to them and theirs? In what ways were her behavior, methods, and ideas groundbreaking? How did Margaret pave the way for the women who followed her?