Women’s Status in Colonial Society
Women’s Status in Colonial Society
For many of the settlers coming to America they, obviously, had formed their own views and beliefs on the world, including the thought on the way of life and what it was intended to be. For most colonists in America they already shared a common opinion about women being inferior. However, the value of women has a slight increase due to scarceness. The status of women in the colonies, the roles women had taken with the religion aspect, and the required daily chores known as “women’s work” would eventually require a second look into the their contributions. Once many colonists became established and figured out the ways to live and survive in this New World also came forth many formed opinions on what the purpose of women would be in the colonies. John Winthrop insisted that a woman’s role was solely to adhere to her husband, obey his authority and find contentment within this. One Minister even stressed, “the woman is a weak creature not endowed with like strength and constancy of mind.” (Tindall and Shi 2010, 113) Due to social custom and legal codes women had little to no rights.
The few exceptions for women to have any type of right or gain respect were if and only, it seemed, family circumstances required a woman to continue on the family reputation, business, or social standing. An example would be Elizabeth Lucas Pinckney (Tindall and Shi 2010, 114) who was highly educated and left to take care of her family while her father was absent. This led her to be known as Americas most enterprising horticulturist. Religion in the colonial era still had similar views about women within the Puritan denomination. As for Puritans they considered women to be “weak vessels” and also cited biblical passages that god required “virtuous” women to submit to male authority and remain silent in congregational matters. (Tindall and Shi 2010, 115) Unlike Quakers, who during this time considered women to be equal to men and allowed women to have a voice within the community. Women were even allowed to preach within the Quaker religion, but with that, no denomination allowed women to be ordained as ministers. It became apparent by the ministers that woman were the mass of the congregation, which worried them and led them to believe that a feminized church was a church in decline.
This was argued by a Boston Minister, Cotton Mather (Tindall and Shi 2010, 115) who proclaimed that women were not the weaker of the sex, and that childbirth pain woman endured was not as punishment that woman paid for Eve’s sinfulness, was in part the reason and motivator for women to commit their lives to Christ. Thus showing how he came to this conclusion which was after his observation that there “are far more Godly women in the world rather than Godly men”. Women’s work in the eighteenth century, as for the same in the world today, never seemed to end. During the colonial time “women’s work” ” included the duties, as some might say, would be to maintain the house, garden and farm. (Tindall and Shi 2010, 117) Other than taking care of the children and men, tending to the garden, cleaning the house and providing three meals for the day, some women went above and beyond their womanly duties.
Women also found a way to accumulate the required necessities for living. They would make their own clothing, knit linen and cotton, make quilts, hem sheets, make candles and soap, haul water and they even chopped wood to ensure that they would have their firewood needed to provide a source of warmth when the time came. In the southern colonies, female indentured servants worked as field hands, weeding, hoeing and harvesting. (Tindall and Shi 2010, 117) The lack of men and being able to provide the labor needed in the colonies provided an opportunity for many women, despite the laws and traditional beliefs about woman being inferior or incapable.
Due to the scarcity of women and the effects it made on creating instability on high orders in the past, led to laws protecting women. Such laws were created for protection from physical abuse, and permission for divorce. Other laws help maintain control over property they had tended to, property they had earned. While in this era woman played many roles. Showing their strength by doing what was expected and surpassing the “superior sex” by picking up the slack they always seemed to leave behind. Not only within the colonies, the religious conformity they maintained, or the daily tasks they endured for sake of the house hold, they opened a door, made a statement, by executing what needed to be done.
Tindall, George, and David Shi. America: A Narrative History. Volume I, 8th Edition.
New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 14 November 2016
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