In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ottoman Women

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Ottoman Women and Family
  • Ottoman Women and the Laws of Marriage and Divorce
  • Ottoman Women and Management of Property
  • Ottoman Women at the Courts of Law (16th to Mid-19th Centuries)
  • Ottoman Women and Slavery
  • Ottoman Women in Visual Arts
  • Architectural Patronage of Ottoman Royal Women
  • In Their Own Words: Ottoman Women Writers
  • Late Ottoman Women and Legal Reforms (1839–1923)
  • Late Ottoman Discourses on Women’s Rights

Islamic Studies Ottoman Women
Selma Zecevic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0260


The emergence of women’s studies in the 1970s and 1980s significantly broadened the scope of sources and methods in the study of the socio-economic, cultural, and legal history of Ottoman women. Basing their research on multigenre documents from Ottoman courts of law, historians began to shed light on the active role of Ottoman women in the economic, religious, and social lives of their communities. From the mid-1980s, much of the scholarship on Ottoman women has espoused methods and theories that emerged in feminist, gender, cultural and postcolonial studies. Critical analyses of 18th- and 19th-century Orientalist texts and images provided ample evidence that the representations of Ottoman women as powerless, idle, and perpetually subjected to sexual exploitation played a key role in the European colonialist and imperialist discourses of alterity. In dismantling such misconceptions, scholars focused on a wide range of documents from Imperial and local archives to demonstrate the agency and power of Ottoman women, and their ability to undermine gendered laws of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Studies that focused on Ottoman women’s management of property convincingly argued that women made strategic investments to participate in the economic and political sectors of Ottoman societies. In the 1990s and early 2000s, scholars increasingly relied on feminist methodologies in their investigations of the female perspectives on patriarchy, seclusion, and female sexuality. In particular, analyses of women’s magazines, novels, autobiographies and polemics produced by late 19th- and early 20th-century Ottoman women have offered important insights into the female perspective on the “women question” that was on top of the agenda of all male reformers of the late Ottoman Empire. Contemporary scholarship on Ottoman women goes beyond adding women to Ottoman history and refuting the Orientalist clichés. Modern works that destabilize the dichotomies of public/private, male/female, and visible/invisible to address the complexities of Ottoman women’s experiences display a great deal of theoretical and methodological sophistication. In addition, modern-day scholarship on Ottoman women take important steps toward a comparative investigation of the condition of women across the boundaries of ethnic and/or religious affiliation. However, like earlier scholarly works on Ottoman women, modern-day studies are limited by availability of source material. Consequently, much of the history of Ottoman women of modest means, and women who inhabited rural areas of the Empire, remains undocumented and therefore unexamined. This article presents an overview of scholarly works that focus on various aspects of the history of Ottoman women. With the exception of three works, all works are written and/or available in English. Those who are interested in more general topics on Muslim women in the Ottoman Middle East should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Women in Islam.” Important works on gender and sexuality in the Ottoman Middle East can be found in the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Gender and Sexuality.”

General Overviews

Modern scholarship on Ottoman women spans history, law, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, visual arts, postcolonial studies, and gender and feminist studies. Given the broad range of methods, theories, and specialization in particular historiographies and geographic areas, there are no extensive works by single authors that survey Ottoman women over time and across the Ottoman Empire. Exceptionally, a few studies focus on histories of particular classes of Ottoman women and over a limited time period. Davis 1986 discusses a broad range of issues pertaining to the education, marriage and divorce of upper-classes Ottoman women from 1718 to 1918, while Lamdan 2000 provides a close examination of the legal and social status of Jewish women in the 16th-century Ottoman Levant. Since the mid-1990s, edited anthologies of essays that address Ottoman women’s experiences through interdisciplinary perspectives and methods have gained importance. Zilfi 1997 is a wide-ranging and highly influential anthology that focuses on the social, legal, and cultural aspects of the lives of early modern Ottoman women. Buturović and Schick 2007 is an important collection that focuses on different aspects of history of women and gender relations in the Ottoman Balkans. Essays in Boyar and Fleet 2016 examine issues related to the public lives of Ottoman women. Köksal and Falierou 2013 gather essays that take a diverse disciplinary approach to a broad range of topics related to late Ottoman women. General references on Ottoman women can be found in in the multivolume Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, edited by Suad Joseph (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003). Of particularly importance is the encyclopedia’s article in Faroqhi 2003, which highlights the main themes and sources in the field. Zilfi 2006 and İpşirli Argut 2014 offer accessible bibliographical essays that focus on the main trends and scholarly works in the field. While the bibliographical essay on women in the Ottoman world in Kreiser 2002 is somewhat limited in scope, it includes important sources in four languages.

  • Boyar, Ebru, and Kate Fleet, eds. Ottoman Women in Public Space. Leiden, The Netherlands; Boston: Brill, 2016.

    An anthology of eight essays that use various sources and methods to discuss the presence and visibility of Ottoman women in public spaces. Essays in this anthology make a valuable contribution to the critique of the public/private dichotomy in discussions of the exclusive male/female spheres of influence.

  • Buturović, Amila, and İrvin Cemil Schick, eds. Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History. London: Taurus, 2007.

    An important anthology of interdisciplinary essays that highlights various aspects of women’s experiences in the Ottoman Balkans. An indispensable source for scholars and students of women’s history and gender relations in the Ottoman Balkans.

  • Davis, Fanny. The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

    An early and somewhat outdated study of elite Ottoman women, from 1718 to 1918. It discusses a broad range of topics including education, marriage, polygamy, divorce, and social life inside and outside home.

  • Faroqhi, Suraiya. “Women in the Ottoman World: Mid 18th to Early 20th Centuries.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Vol. 2, Economy and Society. Edited by Suad Joseph, 161–163. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    A useful overview of themes and sources for the study of Ottoman women. Excellent references to sources in Ottoman Turkish and European languages.

  • İpşirli Argut, Betül. “Women in the Early Modern Ottoman: A Bibliographical Essay.” Akademik Araştrmalar Dergisi 15.60 (2014): 1–28.

    The most recent review of thematically arranged works that explore different aspects of the history of Ottoman women. Useful for undergraduate students.

  • Köksal, Duygu, and Anastasia Falierou. A Social History of Late Ottoman Women: New Perspectives. Leiden, The Netherlands: Boston, 2013.

    This anthology includes fourteen essays by scholars of diverse fields. Drawing from a broad range of primary and secondary source materials, the essays explore the issues of class, work, education, representation, identity, and agency of late Ottoman women in the broader context of social, cultural and political changes in the Ottoman Empire.

  • Kreiser, Klaus. “Women in the Ottoman World: A Bibliographical Essay.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 13.2 (2002): 187–206.

    DOI: 10.1080/09596410220128506

    A useful summary review of important monographs, anthologies and articles in Turkish, English, German, and French.

  • Lamdan, Ruth. A Separate People: Jewish Women in Palestine, Syria and Egypt in the Sixteen Century. London: Brill, 2000.

    Examines the status of Jewish women in the 16th-century Levant, based 16th- and early 17th-century Responsa literature, the homiletic literature of the time, local regulations by religious leaders, and travel literature.

  • Zilfi, Madeline. “Muslim Women in the Early Modern Era.” In The Cambridge History of Turkey. Edited by Suraiya Faroqhi, 226–255. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521620956.012

    An excellent introductory essay focusing on the key themes and issues in the scholarship up to 2006 on Muslim women of the early modern Ottoman Empire.

  • Zilfi, Madelein C., ed. Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

    Comprising fourteen articles, this is the first edited anthology that focuses on multiple aspects of the social, legal, economic, and cultural lives of early modern Ottoman women. Interdisciplinary in scope, this anthology is still one of the most important works in the field.

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