There are lots of words that have male and female forms, and usually there are alternate suffixes to the words which indicate the gender; for example, "waiter" vs. "waitress", "mister" vs. "mistress", etc. The one that has always puzzled me, though, is "widow" and "widower". Following the form of the previous examples, I understand "widower" for men--but why the form of the word with no suffix for women? Why isn't a woman called a "widowess"?
I suspect because the phrase was only needed for women and widower is a much later literary invention.
Widow had a lot of legal implications for property, titles and so on — if the survivor was a woman these got complicated before women had as many rights. If the survivor was a man in the middle ages it didn't really make much difference — he held the property anyway. A similar question came up about illegitimate girl children — there is no word because there was no legal need to consider them.
English generally doesn't have many genders anymore and those that have survived are where it was necessary to know the actual sex. So "actress" once had rather more of a euphemism role (like the modern 'model actress whatever') — where knowing their sex is relatively important.
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The term widower is obviously an extension of "widow":
"Widow" is old enough to be credited to Middle English "widewe" and Old English "widuwe".
My guess for the term starting with women is the economical independence that men have been granted throughout history. The strength of polygyny over the rarer polyandry also implies that the death of a wife wouldn't have altered a man's married state due to his having more than one. The need for a male counterpart just wasn't as great.
Of note, I have rarely heard "widow" refer to a man who has lost his spouse but it seems ridiculously uncommon (and thus potential errors) and most of the definitions I saw specifically referred to women. The shift back to gender neutral language may effect this. Also, "widowed" is correct for both genders (as opposed to "widowered".)