Cornelia H. Dayton


Ph.D., Princeton

Areas of Specialty

Early British North America to 1820; U.S. legal history; the history of women, gender, and sexuality in the Atlantic World from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries

Current Research Interests

Early British North America to 1820: the social history of mental health; rituals of governance in early modern towns and cities; and (for several of my projects) research methods for building accessible databases chronicling life histories of hundreds of “ordinary” people.


Cornelia Dayton spent most of her childhood in Pennsylvania and Maine. In 1979 she graduated from Harvard-Radcliffe College, magna cum laude in history and government. After receiving her Ph.D. in History from Princeton University in 1986 where she worked principally with Stanley N. Katz and John Murrin, Dayton held a two-year postdoctoral fellowship and assistant professorship at the Institute of Early American History and Culture at the College of William and Mary. She was on the History faculty of the University of California at Irvine between 1988 and 1997. She is currently working on the two book projects listed below. Since 2001, she has held several residential fellowships—at the Huntington Library in California; the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Harvard University; the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA; and the Univ. of Connecticut Humanities Institute.

Works in Progress

Frames of Distraction: Self and Sanity in Pre-Asylum New England

Selected Publications

Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th edition, with Linda K. Kerber and Jane De Hart and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston, with Sharon V. Salinger (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Robert Love’s Warnings was awarded the 2015 Merle Curti Award by the Organization of American Historians and was the winner of the Littleton-Griswold Prize sponsored by the American Historical Association.

“Re-thinking Agency, Recovering Voices,” The American Historical Review 109 (June 2004), 827-43

Getting Beyond ‘Who Done It,” common-place [an e-journal of Early American Studies] 4 (Oct. 2003): Review of Elaine Forman Crane, Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell

“Was There a Calvinist Type of Patriarchy? New Haven Colony Reconsidered in the Early Modern Context,” in The Many Legalities of Early America, ed. Bruce H. Mann and Christopher Tomlins (Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2001)

“Excommunicating the Governor’s Wife: Religious Dissent in the Puritan Colonies Before the Era of Rights Consciousness,” in John McLaren and Harold Coward, eds., Religious Conscience, the State, and the Law: Historical Contexts and Contempory Significance (Albany: SUNY Univ. Press, 1999)

Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639- 1789 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995).

“Turning Points and the Relevance of Colonial Legal History,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 50 (Jan. 1993), 7-17

“Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth-Century New England Village,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 48 (Jan. 1991), 19-49.

Links of Interest

Collaborative Database on the History of Violent Crime and Violent Death in the United States. Principal Investigators: Randolph Roth (Ohio State University), Cornelia Hughes Dayton (UConn); Kenneth Wheeler (Reinhardt College); James Watkinson (Library of Virginia); and others. Envisioned as a continually updated calendar of historians’ research notes on criminal caseloads and suicide records spanning the colonial period to the present.

Taking the Trade: a pilot website intended to serve as a classroom supplement to accompany my 1991 article of the same name. Constructed in collaboration with Dr. Jessica Linker and Dr. Woody Holton, it contains transcriptions of all documents in the case, plus photographs, chronologies, and a cast of characters.

Cornelia Dayton, professor of history, on Oct. 27, 2021. (Kayla Simon/UConn Photo)
Contact Information
Mailing Address241 Glenbrook Road, Wood Hall U-4103, Storrs CT 06269
Office LocationWood Hall, Rm 328
CampusCampus: Storrs
Office HoursSpring 2024: Tue 3:30-4:30; Wed 9:30-10:30am via WebEx, signup through
LinkTaking the Trade