What defines a woman's identity? 

What forces shape the terms of her life? 

What are the economic, social, political, intellectual  and personal conditions which affect women most directly?


colonial era "golden age" for women?

race, ethnicity, class, wealth, family position, geographic location, and individual circumstance.


pregnancy, childbirth & childrearing.

women died roughly one out of every thirty deliveries.

New England better than South or England.

25% babies who survived birth, died during first years. 


Colonization -- economic and population pressure in Europe; discover & exploit natural resources, convert "heathen savages", add to greatness of home country, religion.

Jamestown military or trading posts -- four or more single men for every unmarried woman. 


European patriarchal social order -- women, servants, slaves, men without property denied right to vote & hold public office 


Iroquois world created by woman; descendants "three sisters" -- corn, beans & squash. 

Women central to sacred ritual.

Iroquois matrilineal (inheriting thru female line) & matrilocal (live in wife's house). 

Iroquois clan matrons had some group political power -- not allowed in Council of Elders.


European stereotype: dark = ugly, promiscuous;

liaisons between European men & Native American women  - but European women forbidden by law Virginia from marrying Native American or African men, "tainting" purity.


1720s, 1730s, as many as one out of two or three brides in Mass. pregnant at wedding;


Law important form of control, both reflecting & enforcing community values.

English common law. 

Principle of "coverture" -- married women represented in civil matters by husband. 

Married woman technically "feme covert" (covered woman), exchanging rights for protection of husband -- legal incompetent, equivalent to children, criminals or idiots.

Justified as natural order --subject's obedience to a king; family as divinely sanctioned social order, basis of stability -- at least in theory.

Widows legally "feme sole" (single woman).



Family as economic unit, women essential skills -- resource management, use of time.


Poem New Hampshire woman 1782:

Up in the morning I must rise

Before I've time to rub my eyes.

With half-pin'd gown, unbuckled shoe,

I haste to milk my lowing cow.

But, Oh! It makes my heart to ache,

I have no bread til I can bake.

And then, alas! It makes me sputter,

For I must churn or have no butter.

The hogs with swill too I must serve,

For hogs must eat or men will starve.


division of labor not straightforward --

men made cider, women beer;

men chop wood, women make soap;

some jobs gender-neutral - weaving, milking cows, carrying water


picked up husbands' craft, then took over business if widowed;

Elizabeth Holt publication New York Journal, state's official printer during Revolution. 

Anne Franklin and daughters ran printing business for Rhode Island;

1733 widows' letter protesting exclusion from male-only business gatherings: "We are House keepers, Pay our Taxes, Carry on Trade, and most of us are she Merchants, and as we in some measure contribute to the Support of Government, we ought to be Intitled to some of the Sweets of it."

Nantucket whaling;

Run boarding houses, taverns, stores; midwives, nurses;

Indentured servants;


Salem witch trials:

Europe: Malleus Maleficarum ("the Witches' Hammer") Dominican monks 1484: women's inferior minds made them "more credulous, and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he attacks them.  Women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit." 

1500s & 1600s "the great witch craze";

(hundred thousand at least; some historians say millions)

Pope's special officials in Germany, executing two witches per day average.

1595 Spanish government warrant making elderly women prime suspects in cases of sorcery.

Last known execution 1722 in Scotland;

Puritan minister Cotton Mather denounced descendants of Eve for human downfall.

1692, Salem:

accusations start against three women - Tituba, West Indian slave, outsider;

within months, 19 people (16 women) executed; more than 100 more in jail

accused wife of governor & wife of one of respected minister.


Cotton Mather urged women follow "daughters of Zion," be like Bathsheba -- subordinate helpmates, "virtuous women" preserve home & values.

Puritanism --religious reform 16th C England -- arrived New England 1630. Rigid hierarchy -- husband over wife, parent over child, master over servant, whites over Indian heathens. 


Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) -- daughter & wife of Puritan leaders.  Religiously prescribed role of goodwife - yet quiet defiance & individuality through poetry. 

Puritan education of girls, reading (not writing);


Bradstreet tribute to Queen Elizabeth I: 

Now say, have women worth? Or have they none?

Or had they some, but with our Queen is it gone?

Nay, masculines, you have thus taxed us long,

Let such as say our sex is void of reason,

Know Ôtis slander now but once was treason.


poems published anonymously England 1650,

Bradstreet defended her right to write:


I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

Who says my hand a needle better fits,

A Poets pen all scorn I should thus wrong

For such despite they cast on female wits.


St Paul, "let your women keep silent in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak."


radical nonconformist Protestant sects,

Anne Hutchinson, (1591-1643)

1636 called before alarmed ministers -- accused of "a thing not tolerable or comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sexÉ you have stepped out of your place, you have rather been a husband than a wife, and a preacher rather than a hearer, and a magistrate rather than a subject." 

Heresy, claiming God spoke directly to her -- excommunicated & banished;

strong assertive woman, alternative model to quiet goodwife Anne Bradstreet.

Mather worried women's intellectual independence & spiritual freedom might lead to sexual liberation -- labeled Hutchinson "sexual deviant," an unnatural woman. Hutchinson's followers in trouble.