In a time where women are not considered citizens according to the law, Lyddie Berry is a widow who struggles to maintain a modicum of autonomy after her husband dies in a whaling accident. This is how “The Widow’s War” by Sally Gunning begins.
According to the law in 1761, Widow Berry is entitled to one-third of her husband’s property. This means she may use one-third of her house. She also has use of the cow, the chickens, and part of the land to plant a garden.
Lyddie is expected by her son-in-law to turn all of her property over to him so that he can sell it off for a profit. She is expected to move in with his family and live the remainder of her days in his debt. This is what society dictates, and it is what her friends and daughter expect her to do.
Lyddie has other plans, however. She has lived many lonely years as a fisherman’s wife, taking care of her home and her property on her own while her husband was out to sea. She doesn’t see why things have to change.
So through the help of a dear old friend who happens to be a lawyer, Lyddie tries to change how things have always been. She determines to make full use of that one-third of the property that is rightfully hers.
She makes friends with an Indian man who hires her to keep his house so that she has a little bit of money to buy necessities. But he is the only friend she makes in this endeavor. She has lost her friends. Her community has shunned her. Her own daughter has even turned her back on Lyddie. She has only her own will to go on.
But her son-in-law does not make things easy. He does everything in his power to make her life more difficult. He wants the money that the sale of the house would bring and will stop at nothing to get it.
This is an inspiring fictional story about a woman who is determined to take her freedom from those who refuse to give it.
I was rooting for Widow Berry from the very beginning. She is a heroine who tries to do what society expects of her, but in the end, has to follow her heart. She challenges the political, the religious, and the societal views around her in order to be happy.
June 19 marks the anniversary of the day in 1873 that Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for the federal crime of voting (in the 1872 presidential election) without the right to vote. She is a great woman that stood up for women’s rights in the history of this great country. “The Widow’s War,” although fictional, helped me appreciate the many heroines who have made my life, as a woman, a little easier.