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First Generation Women Essay

Women in America today are drastically different then the colonial women of yesterday. Today I can not imagine the life they lived. From preparing and processing food from scratch to sewing and mending clothes by hand. Imagine maintaining a household without the local Walmart handy to buy cleaning supplies, gives me a headache just thinking about it! Not to mention they had little value in the eyes of their husbands and community. After reading First Generations, Women in Colonial America, by Carol Berkin it is easy to say woman have come a long way from our early colonial women ancestors.

In America today there is still a high number of domestic abuse cases on women and children. Domestic abuse is not only physical abuse but mentally, emotionally, spiritually and verbal. Simply put, domestic abuse can be described as oppression from another human being. However, there are laws against abuse today. Colonial women did not have help from authorities like women do today and possibly went back to their captors to be free from abuse and have a their voice heard in life. Women in colonial times had very little rights, especially after they were married. Once married they lost any voice they might have had.

They were subject to much oppression, as told in Carol Berkin’s book (41 Berkin). They were fully dependent on their husbands to provide food, shelter and religious guidance. They had no voice in politics, church or even their home and children. The women were not able to even sit next to the men during church services, and had to enter a separate door than the men (41). This reason is why many colonial women stayed with or went back to their captors after they were released. Carol Berkin gave a good report of how colonial women suffered at the hands of their husbands and society by explaining how they were treated unfairly and unjust.

Berkin stated that the colonial women were not treated as equals to their spouse. She also explained that once a colonial woman was married she was denied the right to make judgments concerning their own economical circumstances. This meant their voice was lost in the courts, restricted their ability to gain or distribute material wealth, and interfered with their social standing. Colonial women were deemed incompetent. Basically they were as equal to children, lame and theives according to the English law. Once married the colonial women lost the right to any material riches, including the clothes on their backs.

They became property of their husbands… they no longer owned their physical body! This happens in other countries legally today but not in America. I personally believe in the Christian Bible, and marriage, in part, is about wives submitting to their husband; and how the husband is to be the protector, and head of his family. I believe once married we are to give our bodies to our spouse, but the Lord never meant for this to be in an “unhealthy controlling” way. Through out Berkin’s book she sugests religious oppression (42).

Men have been using the Bible and God’s Word to achieve control over women for centuries. In colonial times it is easy to see that it was a male dominated world and women were at great disadvantage in their own homes, church, court and community. At the time colonial women seemed to except their lot in life and go on about their lives in the way that was laid out for them without the choice to do anything about it… I find it sad to think about it. When there North Americans and the Indians began to fight there was much blood shed, and many prisoners captured on both sides.

Colonial women and children were captured by the Indians and were meant for adoption into the tribes or the French Canadian society. Berkin states later “Those women who, on ransom and release from their Indian captors, pleaded to return to their Indian families and friends… ” (44) This action shows just how much better their quality of life became once captured. The colonial women must of felt free compared to their life with colonial men. Life for women today must have seemed unthinkable for colonial women, but living with the French and the Indian tribes must have given them the hope they needed to progress as we have today.


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