Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online

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(813 words)

1. Definition

The German phrase alte Jungfer (spinster) is a pejorative term usually denoting an older woman who has never married. The word Jungfer appeared in the 14th century as a shortened form of MHG jungvrouw (a term designating the social status of a girl of noble birth, a young mistress, a sexually inviolate woman); after the 17th and 18th centuries, it denoted unmarried bourgeois daughters (also as a form of address); toward the end of the 18th century, it also denoted higher level servants (Kammerjungfer…

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Ziep, Franziska, “Spinster”, in: Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online, Editors of the English edition: Graeme Dunphy, Andrew Gow. Original German Edition: Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit. Im Auftrag des Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts (Essen) und in Verbindung mit den Fachherausgebern herausgegeben von Friedrich Jaeger. Copyright © J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung und Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH 2005–2012. Consulted online on 25 September 2023 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0272_emho_COM_021766>
First published online: 2015
First print edition: 20180208

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