The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Alternate uses: see widow (typesetting).

A widow is a woman whose spouse has died. A man whose spouse has died is a widower. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or viduity.

Widowhood has been an important social issue, particularly in the past. In families in which the husband was the sole provider, widowhood could plunge the family into poverty, and many charities had as a goal the aid of widows and orphans. This was aggravated by women's longer life spans, and that men generally married women younger than themselves.

However, in some patriarchal societies, widows were among the most independent women. Widows sometimes carried on their husbands' businesses and were consequently accorded certain rights, such as the right to enter guilds.

There were implications for sexual freedom as well; although some wills contained dum casta provisions (requiring widows to remain unmarried in order to receive inheritance), in societies preventing divorce, widowhood permitted women to remarry and have a greater range of sexual experiences. The Wife of Bath in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales refers to having been widowed five times, permitting her greater sexual experience.

See also

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