In her account of unmarried women's experiences in colonial Philadelphia, Wulf argues that educated young women, particularly Quakers, engaged in resistance to patriarchal marriage by exchanging poetry critical of marriage, copying verse into their commonplace books. Wulf suggests that this critique circulated beyond the daughters of the Quaker elite and middle class, whose commonplace books she mines, proposing that Quaker schools brought it to many poor female students of diverse backgrounds.
Here Wulf probably overstates Quaker schools' impact. At least three years' study would be necessary to achieve the literacy competence necessary to grapple with the material she analyzes. In 1765, the year Wulf uses to demonstrate the diversity of Philadelphia's Quaker schools, 128 students enrolled in these schools. Refining Wulf's numbers by the information she provides on religious affiliation, gender, and length of study, it appears that only about 17 poor non-Quaker girls were educated in Philadelphia's Quaker schools for three years or longer. While Wulf is correct that a critique of patriarchal marriage circulated broadly, Quaker schools probably cannot be credited with instilling these ideas in the lower classes. Popular literary satires on marriage had already landed on fertile ground in a multiethnic population that embodied a wide range of marital beliefs and practices. These ethnic- and class-based traditions themselves challenged the legitimacy of patriarchal marriage.