The women who lived in the Puritan society of early Colonial America had to adhere to strict gender roles due to the religious law that ruled their communities.
The Puritans left England and travelled to Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. Puritans believed women were more susceptible than men to temptations and sin. Women had to dress modestly, and obey men. Married women could not own property, sign contracts or own a business. Women could not participate in town meetings and were excluded from decision making within the Church, the center of the Puritan community.
While women enjoyed few rights that didn’t mean women didn’t make a significant impact at the time. Get to know 5 notable women of early Colonial America
The legend goes that Mary Chilton was the first person to step foot in Plymouth when the Mayflower landed in the North America in 1620. Mary would have been 12 years old when she stepped onto the famous rock in Massachusetts. So excited to get to shore after months on a boat out at sea she jumped out of the small boat taking the group to shore before anyone else and waded in the water towards dry land.
Anne Bradstreet was the first female published poet and writer in the North American colonies. Many of her poems described the role of marriage and family in the lives of Puritan women, and her extensive use of metaphors and religious imagery exposed her suppressed thoughts on gender roles in colonial America.
A former Puritan who became a Quaker, Mary Dyer is one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston Martyrs. In 1657 and 1658 Massachusetts passed anti-quaker laws that made Dyer’s decision to take up missionary work dangerous. She imprisoned and expelled from cities in New England multiple times for her beliefs. In 1660 she returned to Boston to appeal her banishment, which failed and she was hung on June 1st, 1660.
The friend and mentor of Mary Dyer, Anne Hutchinson is one of the most famous women from the early colonial period. Hutchinson hosted weekly meetings in her home with other women to discuss the church sermons. Her religious views created a schism within the Puritan society of the Massachusetts colony and she was eventually tired in court which resulted in her being banished from the colony and excommunicated from the Church. Today, the Hutchinson River is named after her. One of the few rivers named after a woman.
Another female writerauthor during Colonial times, Rowlandson wrote one of the first 17th Century captivity narratives. During King Philips War in 1675, Mary Rowlandson was kidnapped by Native Americans and held for ransom. She was captured for 11 weeks before the women of Boston raised 20 pounds for her release. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was published multiple times in the 1600s and is considered one of the first bestsellers in America.
Want to learn about more notable women from history? Check out the Women’s Museum of California’s collection of digital timelines