The development of women’s rights in colonial America is a dramatic period of U.S. history. In particular, the New England Colonies, such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, were highly patriarchal societies. Likewise, women’s roles in the Southern Colonies, for example, the Province of Georgia, were primarily restricted to household duties and motherhood. Hence, the emancipation of women won through a long and tedious way from explicit oppression to an active role in U.S. society. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the role of American women during that time. Moreover, it is relevant to compare their position with tendencies among the Native population to comprehend the historical and cultural context of the colonial era.
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The Massachusetts Bay Colony is famous primarily for its city Salem. Indeed, it is a notorious place where witch accusations and persecutions culminated in 1692. These events are hideous examples of “gender inequality and marginalization of women” in the patriarchal society of colonial America (Rosen, 2017, p. 21). Apart from these brutal murders, women in the New England Colonies experienced several other forms of oppression. For example, in the 17th century, the male community rejected the inclusion of female spiritual leaders under the Quakers tradition (Rosen, 2017). Instead, the Puritan male population treated women as descendants of Eve, who was “Satan’s first human ally” (Rosen, 2017, p. 23). Thus, women could fulfill their duties of wives, mothers, and caretakers, and any signs of disobedience and transgression of this limited scope of expected roles automatically resulted in a witch-hunt.
Similarly, women in Southern Colonies were housewives with no right to divorce and few possibilities to provide themselves without a husband. However, it is necessary to admit that the position of southern women was much more beneficial. For instance, the Province of Georgia enjoyed a more substantial amount of influence and authority. In fact, they ran the household and generally played a more significant role in the society of the Southern Colonies. This historical peculiarity stemmed from the fact that women in this colony had the right to inherit large plantations from their fathers and husbands. Indeed, such a policy was necessary to preserve the family business and thus reinforce one’s legacy. Besides, women “sometimes owned the land outright and received headright grants of land” (Caldwell, 2017, para. 10). Furthermore, women’s rights were protected by “the premarriage agreement, which set a woman’s property aside in a trust to which her husband had no access” (Caldwell, 2017, para. 7). Hence, the prioritization of ownership and household property led to the increased role of women in the Southern colonies as compared to the New England Colonies.
Meanwhile, in the traditional Native American societies on the territories of both colonies, American Indian women enjoyed gender equality. In fact, men and women were awarded gender roles equally (Rosen, 2017). As a result, American Indian women could achieve the dominating positions in their communities, exercising the functions of a warrior and a leader. In other words, quite ironically, the indigenous population of American had already enjoyed the benefits of gender equality well before their colonists started to advocate the ideas of emancipation. Even so, this unique social feature faded away and disappeared under the colonial influence of white Americans.
Thus, women’s roles in the New England Colonies, such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Southern Colonies, for example, the Province of Georgia, were limited to household keepers and implied obedience and submission to men. At the same time, women in the Southern Colonies had a broader range of legal rights in terms of land ownership and inheritance, determined by the historical context of plantation owners. On the contrary, Native American women enjoyed gender equality unprecedented for the colonists. However, this traditional life pattern underwent modification and assimilation with the mainstream white population.
- Caldwell, L. A. (2017). Women in Colonial Georgia. New Georgia Encyclopedia. Web.
- Rosen, M. (2017). A feminist perspective on the history of women as witches. Dissenting Voices, 6(1), 21–31.