Lives of Non-Royal Women

Women in Egypt were expected to marry around age twelve. Egyptian culture was Patrilineal and Patrilocal. Marriage was a secular activity and was regulated by custom rather than law. Instead of a marriage contract, men and women drew up property contracts at the time of marriage in the event of death or divorce. The woman then traveled to the home of her new husband.
In the home, women were responsible for the day-to-day operations and decisions. Women did (and needed to) have the same legal rights and status under the law as men who were gone from the home much of the time due to seasonal projects or warfare. The division of labor within a household evolved from environmental conditions. The men did very physical labor in the hot sun, and women labored inside or in the shade. Women attended to the household's gardens and orchards. There were no formal schools for girls, so mothers educated their daughters in the home. Women did attend professional schools, such as the school of medicine at Heliopolis and the woman's school at Sais, to learn to become doctors.
Women in Egypt were free to seek employment outside the home. Many women worked as musicians or dancers in the temples and during festivals. Wealthier households employed women as maids or nannies, and sometimes professional mourners for funerals. Women who had the time and resources would operate a small business out of their home, such as linen or perfume manufacturing. These activities could greatly increase household income, as these items were much in demand for funeral rights. Professional opportunities for women included physician or midwife, director of dance or singing troupes, and overseer. The women who became doctors mostly attended to other women as gynecologists. Their skills were such that they performed cesarean sections and surgically removed cancerous breasts.
Legal rights, responsibilities, and status were divided along class lines rather than gender lines. Within a given class, men and women had the same rights. Women were free to buy and sell property, enter and execute contracts, and file lawsuits. A woman could acquire possessions, property, and debt separate from her husband through labor or inheritance. A woman was entitled to inherit one third of their joint property on the death of her husband, the remaining estate was divided between the surviving children and siblings of the dead man.
Women were equally accountable under the law. A woman who was convicted of a capital crime in a court of law would be executed, but only after the court determined that the woman was not pregnant. If such a woman was found to be pregnant, her execution was stayed until she could give birth to the child. Then she was executed.
Wilkinson, J. G. (1988) The Ancient Egyptians. New York, NY: Crescent Books
Trigger, B.G., Kemp, B.J., O'Connor, D., Lloyd, A. (1983) Ancient Egypt. London: Cambridge University Press
Jones, C. (1998) 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Woman's History. New York, NY: Doubleday
Written by Joseph Perkins, 2002
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