"Medieval Women" contains a useful but sometimes agonizingly basic overview of half the European population, focusing in its five sections on attitudes toward women, aristocratic women, working women, education, and nuns. The texts--lectures that economic historian Eileen Power had delivered, revised, and fine-tuned for two decades--were among her papers when she died in 1940, and M. M. Postan, her husband (and a famous historian in his own rate), prepared them for this collection.
The resulting book is neither as comprehensive nor as grand as the title might lead you to believe. But in the 1920s and 30s (much less in 1975, when this collection was published), there was little on the topic for general audiences. Previous to its publication, most (male) scholars had focused on the hagiography of saints and abbesses, the biographies of well-known royal women, or the portrayal of women in literature. In other words, with few exceptions, what historians understood of women was gathered largely through the idealized filter of fiction. Power does not ignore these sources, but her lectures instead exhibit an additional familiarity with the types of documents that later scholars would dig into to reveal the lives of women in more factual detail: statutes, court records, wills, and letters.
To those who have read other books in the field, Power's book will inevitably seem cursory and lean. Still, what's surprising is the continuing relevance (and overall accuracy) of her impressionistic survey. Furthermore, because these were originally delivered as lectures, the five chapters are easy to read, and they are nicely supplemented by several dozen illustrations. Even though it was never intended to be a book, this collection of Power's lectures is much better than the lamentable "Women in the Middle Ages," by Joseph and Frances Gies, and it remains a good introduction for students and general readers who are not quite ready to dig in to more elaborate textbooks and monographs.