HomeWomen with absent husbands, from antiquity to modern times: on land, at sea, and overseas (Europe – North America)

HomeWomen with absent husbands, from antiquity to modern times: on land, at sea, and overseas (Europe – North America)

Women with absent husbands, from antiquity to modern times: on land, at sea, and overseas (Europe – North America)

Femmes face à l'absence de l'Antiquité à l'époque contemporaine : terre, mer, outre-mer (Europe – Amérique du Nord)

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Published on Thursday, April 07, 2016


The conference, Women with absent husbands, from antiquity to modern times: on land, at sea, and overseas (Europe – North America), will be an opportunity to reflect on the condition and daily lives of married women experiencing the temporary absence of their husbands. This includes a wide range of situations, varying according to the reason for the absence (work at sea, imprisonment, war, migration, seasonal work, religion, and so on) and their terms (voluntary or enforced) and location (city, country, seaside, mountain, island, colony, etc.), as well as the wife’s age, the presence of children, the social milieu, and whether or not the wives can rely on support networks of family and friends.



Women with absent husbands are a common literary theme, from Penelope waiting for Ulysses for twenty years to Marthe, the unfaithful wife of a soldier in Raymond Radiguet’s Diable au Corps. Between the virtuous wife venerated as a model and the adulterous woman scorned as scandalous, there exists a world of possibilities that show the need to go beyond the strictly sentimental notion of the “virtuous sailor’s wife.”

It is important to take a comprehensive look at the effects of the husbands’ absence and their implications at the level of the individual, the couple, and the community, and to view the women involved as active agents rather than victims suffering the torments of separation. The question of the autonomy and independence of women in patriarchal societies stands at the core of the conference and justifies the focus on the marital relationship. Especially as the departure of the men (sailors, merchants, migrants, settlers, soldiers, etc.) allowed women to partially find their voice, which Michelle Perrot discusses so well. The repeated and/or long absences of their husbands left the women in a sort of in-between state, unlike single adult women or widows faced with the irreversible absence of their husbands.

Widowhood has been the filter through which historians, particularly women historians, have broached the theme of women without men, which has started receiving attention recently. Work by authors such as Olwen Hufton, Ida Blom, Nicole Pellegrin, Colette H. Winn, Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie, Josette Brun, and Bettina Bradbury, to mention only a few, have shown just how ambiguous the widow’s status was in Europe and North America. Although widows enjoyed full legal status, which enabled them to manage their own property, and shared property from the marriage, however they saw fit, they were still obliged to watch their behavior and were subject to pressure from family and friends as long as they were of marriageable age. As for single women, Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie has shown that in modern times they enjoy legal independence but are looked down on in society, where marriage remains the only proper state for women. Here again, differences exist according to type of celibacy (voluntary or enforced), social milieu, and family situation, with sheer fate being a determining factor.

Women whose husbands are absent for long periods are different from single women and widows because they are still married. Nevertheless, their lives are marked by a profound dichotomy between periods where they find themselves alone as head of the family, with the obligations that involves, and periods when the husband resumes his place and responsibilities, as in any normal couple. This ambiguity, which can be a source of greater - or complete - autonomy for women, has been largely ignored by historians to date.

The study session, Femmes face à l'absence, Bretagne et Québec (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles), at the Université de Sherbrooke in 2013 (proceedings published in 2015 in the journal Cheminements by CIEQ, edited by E. Charpentier and B. Grenier) and the resulting discussions demonstrated the interest in this subject. The role of the sea in these absences was also covered in a number of presentations during the study session organized by E. Charpentier and P. Hrodej, Les femmes et la mer à l'époque moderne at Université de Bretagne-Sud in 2014. These preliminary findings pave the way for a broader reflection covering all periods of history, with a view to better understanding the reasons behind the improvement or deterioration of the women’s condition over the longer term. The broad geographic framework, namely Europe and North America, will allow us to make comparisons and examine more specific situations.

The presentations will be grouped under four themes, underpinned by the issue of women’s emancipation:

  • Legal status of women with absent husbands: theory, compromises, and limitations
  • Representations of women with temporarily absent husbands and their implications: stereotypes, adultery, harassment, surveillance, confinement, etc.
  • Economic consequences of the husband’s absence and strategies used to deal with them: diversity of practices (at the individual and household level), task sharing within the couple, women’s work, and mutual assistance and solidarity (from family and other women, within the parish, etc.)
  • Impact of the absences on the couple and the family: power relations, family responsibilities, women’s role in household affairs (power to act, trust issues, training and education), the role of other members of the family (parents, brothers, brothers-in-law, etc.), and the reconfiguration or rearrangement of daily life

The aim is to compare how the absence or presence of the husband affects these issues in different situations according to the reason for the absences (work at sea, imprisonment, war, migration, seasonal work, religion, and so on) and their terms (voluntary or enforced) and location (city, country, seaside, mountain, island, colony, etc.), as well as the wife’s age, the presence of children, and the social milieu. Speakers may address a specific angle within a broader, more general perspective.

This call for presentations is intended for both young and experienced researchers working on the above themes from a historical point of view. It is also open to interdisciplinary approaches that may include literature, sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and law.

Submission Procedure

Presentation proposals, in French or English, must include a title and an abstract of around 2,000 characters, and a short introduction of the speaker (position, institution, publications, email, postal address, and phone number). Please drop your file (.pdf, .doc, .odt, or .docx) on http://femmes-abs-2017.sciencesconf.org/

by July 1, 2016.

The scientific committee will respond to the submitted proposals in September, 2016.

Contact : femmes-abs-2017@sciencesconf.org


  • Presentation length: 25 minutes
  • Language: French or English
  • The proceedings of the symposium will be published in 2017.

Pratical information


Dates: May 11-12-13, 2017

Place: Centre International de la Mer, Corderie Royale in Rochefort, France

Accommodation, lunches, and the Thursday night dinner during the symposium will be free for speakers, but they will be responsible for their own travel expenses.


  • Emmanuelle Charpentier (Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès– Framespa-UMR 5136)
  • Benoît Grenier (Université de Sherbrooke – Québec-CIEQ, and CERHIO-UMR 6258)
  • Mickaël Augeron (Université de La Rochelle - CRHIA-EA 1163)
  • Christine Dousset-Seiden (Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès– Framespa-UMR 5136)
  • Sylvie Mouysset (Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès– Framespa-UMR 5136)
  • Thierry Sauzeau (Université de Poitiers – CRIHAM-EA 4270)

The symposium is organized in partnership with Centre International de la Mer (Rochefort) with support from Framespa-UMR 5136, du CRHIA-EA 1163, du CRIHAM-EA 4270, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Université de Sherbrooke in Québec, Université de Poitiers, and Université de La Rochelle.

Scientific Committee

  • Mickaël Augeron, CRHIA, Université de La Rochelle
  • Peggy Bette, chercheur associé au CERHIO
  • Lydie Bodiou, HeRMA, Université de Poitiers
  • Sandra Boehringer, Archimède, Université de Strasbourg
  • Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, FRAMESPA, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Sylvie Chaperon, FRAMESPA, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Emmanuelle Charpentier, FRAMESPA, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Frédéric Chauvaud, CRIHAM, Université de Poitiers
  • Leslie Choquette, French Institute, Assumption College, Massachusetts
  • Anne Cova, Universidade de Lisboa
  • Dominique Deslandres, Université de Montréal
  • Christine Dousset-Seiden, FRAMESPA, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Magda Fahrni, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Adeline Grand-Clément, PLH-ERASME, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Benoît Grenier, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Didier Lett, ICT, Université Paris-Diderot
  • Sylvie Mouysset, FRAMESPA, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Isabelle Réal, FRAMESPA, Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès
  • Ofelia Rey Castelao, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
  • Thierry Sauzeau, CRIHAM, Université de Poitiers
  • Danièle Tosato-Rigo, Université de Lausanne
  • Colette H. Winn, Washington University in Saint Louis

Honorary Committee

  • Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie, CHSSC, Université de Picardie-Jules Verne
  • Micheline Dumont, professeur émérite, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Dominique Godineau, CERHIO, Université Rennes 2
  • Nicole Pellegrin, CNRS-IHMC
  • Pauline Schmitt-Pantel, professeur émérite, Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne
  • Natalie Zemon Davis, professeur émérite, University of Toronto



  • Centre International de la Mer - Corderie Royale
    Rochefort, France (17)


  • Friday, July 01, 2016


  • femme, absence, représentation, statut juridique, travail, solidarité, pouvoir, famillle


  • Emmanuelle Charpentier
    courriel : emmanuelle [dot] charpentier [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Benoit Grenier
    courriel : Benoit [dot] Grenier2 [at] USherbrooke [dot] ca

Information source

  • Emmanuelle Charpentier
    courriel : emmanuelle [dot] charpentier [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Women with absent husbands, from antiquity to modern times: on land, at sea, and overseas (Europe – North America) », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, April 07, 2016, https://doi.org/10.58079/uuf

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