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The Women of the House by Jean Zimmerman


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 Margarets storehouse on the
banks of the Hudson into a veritable mansion, Philipse Manor Hall. The last
Philipse to live there, Mary Philipse Morristhe It-girl of mid-1700s New
Yorkwas even courted by George Washington. But privilege couldnt shelter
the family from the Revolution, which raged on Marys 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.
Discussion Questions:

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 Margarets time?

3. Although Margaret came to New Amsterdam as a traders 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 Margarets great successes, Catherines main achievement
building Philipsburg Churchcould be considered a very different kind of accomplishment. How did
Catherines efforts and vision for the church reflect the changing social mores of her time?

8. How did Joanna Brockholst Philipses lifestyle, interests, and values mirror the changes that occurred
between her heyday and Catherines?

9. How would Marys life have been different had she married George Washington? Did Mary and her
husbands decision to remain as Loyalists stem from their own convictions, from ambivalence, or from

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 womens 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 womens 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?