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Women Colonists in Seventeenth-Century America

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Upon reading the chapter entitled “Women Colonists in Seventeenth-Century America,” I was first struck by the pervasiveness of misogynistic attitudes, imported to Colonial America, most heavily, from England. Although women played a diminished role in Colonial society, due directly to overt legislation and communal practices, termed “substantive” or “statute” law and “common law” respectively, in the early days of Colonial America, a shortage of marriageable women threatened to undermine the survival of entire colonies (46). This disparity prompted King Louis XIV to send “young Frenchwomen, known as les filles du roi,” literally “‘the King’s Daughters’” in French, “to the New World to marry French colonists (42). The need for women in early Colonial America was profound; however, those who did come to the New World, by choice or coercion, enjoyed far less rights and privileges than their male counterparts. Married women, referred to, in the singular, as “feme covert,” were especially targeted unfairly as, upon marriage, they became “one” with their husbands, as according to Western Christian tradition of the time, and, thus, sacrificed much of their individual rights of both property and personal autonomy. A “feme sole,” a single woman, actually retained much more personal autonomy, and would be allowed to conduct business, sue in court, and other such activities, economic and political, which would be transferred to her husband upon marriage. One confusing aspect, however, is a question as follows: Why even marry, as a woman, if one knew she was to be stripped of her political and economic rights as an individual? The answer is, unfortunately, quite simple: Single women were subject to intense discrimination in virtually all of the Colonial American societies. It was commonly thought in these (especially Puritan) societies that “every woman needed to have a man in her life to protect her interests, to see that she behaved, and to limit the damage she might do to society by her uncontrolled behavior” (62). Women were, by and large, demonized, vilified, and villainized by the societies in which they lived simply for the fact of their being women. The ideal woman was to be a goodwife, or “‘Goody…’ submissive to her husband, obedient to the authorities, industrious in her housework, pious in her religion, silent rather than complaining, and a good mother and housewife” (65).

A question soon arises in the mind of an inquisitive investigator: What happened to the women who dared to exist outside of the sexist, misogynistic parameters of the goodwife? According to the text, these women risked being labeled, and, thus, treated, as “brabbling women” who were “women acting outside the role of goodwives, acting as politicians, speaking publicly in a society that said they should be silent, acting in ways that society thought they should not, all represent[ing] a threat to the hierarchy



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