In this first of a projected two volumes, Anderson (History/Brooklyn College) and Zinsser (Humanities/U.N. International School) draw on the recent outpouring of scholarly research on women's history to reconstruct the lives and contributions of European women from prehistory to the 17th century. Contending that ""gender has been the most important factor in restricting women"" into ""a separate caste"" that spans the ages and transcends national boundaries, the authors eschew the usual organization into eras and nationalities, organizing their material according to four major categories that once delineated women's roles: the peasantry, the church, the nobility/landed class, and the walled towns. Throughout, they find evidence that women, with some spectacular exceptions (e.g., Catherine of Aragon, Joan of Arc) were defined by their kinship to men and were subordinate to them. A peasant wife usually carried more than her fair share of the struggle for survival. She was expected to bear stalwart sons (girl babies were frequently killed) and to tend the hearth and participate in tilling and harvesting; and she also frequently brought in needed cash by sales of livestock she reared and butter, cheese, and woven goods she produced. Although both the Catholic and Protestant churches owed much to the early organizing and proselytizing of women, men soon became dominant. Many queens and noblewomen, however, ran kingdoms, duchies, or estates when their husbands were off soldiering. Yet they were expected to be obedient and subordinate to their spouses. Some women escaped the mold: until 16th century, women dominated the medical profession as midwives and surgeon barbers; many also wrote works of literature, history, and philosphy; and several were successful artists. Documented in almost mind-numbing detail, this study makes for heavy slogging--but for those interested in women's history, the effort is worth it.