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Throughout the course of history, there have been many strong women who have proven that they are not less valuable than men, and fight for equal rights. These women are known as feminists. In colonial times in America, women were provided with less legal rights than men. Even with fewer legal rights, women were still able to influence the course of events, and left lasting impressions. Anne Hutchinson, Anne Bradstreet, and Abigail Adams were strong women who provided strong evidence that women are not of a lesser power than men. Anne Hutchinson pushed for women’s rights through her bold bible studies. Anne Bradstreet was an advocate for women’s rights through her poetry, and Abigail Adams pushed for women’s equality with education and legal rights.
In Colonial America, women were presented with less rights than men. Women were not permitted to vote for elected officials of any type, and exercised no political rights or representation (Daschofsky, 2017). Unmarried women were allowed to own and sell land, create contracts, and were allowed responsibility for actions that took place on their land. After marrying, these rights were transferred to the husband. Widowed women occupied the same rights as unmarried women, and could also inherit their husband’s property after his death, and operate his business. Anne Hutchinson was one of the first known feminists in America.
Anne Hutchinson was born in England, and is the daughter of Francis Marbury (Heppler 2006). In her childhood, she was educated by her father while he was under house arrest for his religious indifferences to the Church of England. In addition to the valuable education she received from her father, she was encouraged to question everything. Anne Hutchinson was taught to think for herself, and introduced critical thinking to the colonies upon her arrival. She led the first organized attack on the Puritan religious establishment that was controlled by an all-male council.
Anne Hutchinson arrived to the new world in 1634. While living in the Massachusetts Bay colony, she occupied the position of a mid-wife. She was influenced and inspired by the preaching’s of John Cotton. John Cotton was an Anglican minister, who believed that redemption was through God’s grace, and not by the actions and good deeds preformed by an individual. As time went on, Anne Hutchinson began to host gatherings in her home to discuss the “Covenant of Works” with other women in the community, and review John Cotton’s sermons.
The first meetings lead by Anne Hutchinson in her home were strictly to hear and discuss sermons preached by John Cotton. As the meetings continued, the discussions evolved to Anne Hutchinson’s interpretations of the sermons. These gatherings became more popular throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony, attracting as many as seventy to eighty people per meeting. Not only women attended these meetings, but men did as well. Hutchinson held the unspoken role as minister. As Hutchinson’s popularity increased, the colony officials became angry and accused her of attempting to upset the masculine role throughout households. Colony officials believed that it was a sin for a woman to lead a worship service of any type. They did not believe a woman was capable of doing so. While the majority of townspeople supported Hutchinson, the few that were on the council with strong influences opposed her.
After stating that God had presented himself to Hutchinson, Hutchinson was forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay colony. Her family traveled to Portsmouth, and later to Newport settlement. After her husband’s death, her and her children relocated to New Netherlands and were later killed during an Indian raid. Throughout Hutchinson’s teachings and actions, she proves that women can be independent. She displays individuality and fights for true religious freedom. She pushed for women’s rights, and taught women that they are able to think for themselves and should question things as well. Anne Bradstreet valued female independence and wanted women to be able to express themselves freely.
Anne Bradstreet was another female who pushed for women’s rights in early America. She wrote many poems, that are still reflected upon today. Throughout her works, she displays the conflicts she experienced as a woman, writer, and Puritan. Anne Bradstreet was the first female recognized as a New World Poet (Anne Bradstreet). The first book containing her works was “The Tenth Muse”. Bradstreet’s poems were stolen by her brother-in-law, John Woodbridge. He took her works back to England without her knowledge or consent. Prior to publishing, John Woodbridge constructed a few of his own works to be published as well. He believed that by adding them to Bradstreet’s poems, he would be able to justify his custody of her works without her consent. He published “The Tenth Muse” in hopes to gain praises for himself. This action affected him negatively. Once people read the book, as they were able to see that a woman had written the poetry in it based off the point of view situations and individuals were projected.
Among Bradstreet’s works, is the poem “In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth”. This poem is about the power and strength Queen Elizabeth ruled her country with. In the poem “In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth” Bradstreet states,
Was ever people better rul’d than hers?
Was ever Land more happy, freed from stirs?
Did ever wealth in England so abound?
Her Victories in foreign Coasts resound?
Ships more invincible than Spain’s, her foe
She rack’t, she sack’d, she sunk his Armadoe.
Her stately Troops advanc’d to Lisbon’s wall,
Don Anthony in’s right for to install.
She frankly help’d Franks’ (brave) distressed King,
The States united now her fame do sing.
Bradstreet’s poem was published in “The Tenth Muse, where she praises the accomplishments of Queen Elizabeth. She gives credit to Queen Elizabeth, showing that a woman is fully capable of ruling a country, and that the country will still prosper. She also states how Queen Elizabeth assisted a King in a stressful time. She attests that men are not more powerful and look to women for aid in stressful situations. England prospered most when under Queen Elizabeth’s rule. She open’s the eyes of individuals, proving that women do not need a man to think or act for them. As women start pushing for more rights, Abigail Adams advocates for females to have access to the same quality education as males are exposed to.
Abigail Adams was born in 1744. She was married to John Adams, the second president of the United States of America. She was an intelligent individual, and soft spoken. When John Adams was overseas and unable to be home for long periods of time, she ran the family farm and sold goods that were imported to her from Europe so her family would remain financially stable. This was uncharacteristic of a woman to do during this time period. Though she was slightly uncomfortable handling these tasks at first, she became comfortable doing so and was very successful. When the Declaration of Independence was being created, Abigail Adams wrote John Adams stating: “In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands’. She encouraged her husband to consider women’s rights and for them to be included in the creation of laws that would affect them. During her husband’s presidency, she advocated for laws that would require education options for women. She believed that women should have the same educational rights as men. Abigail was also financially wise.
Throughout Abigail and John Adam’s marriage, they were financially stable. Abigail was perspicacious with her business interactions. She managed the finances while John was away. Many historian’s wonder if she is to credit for John Adam’s financial success. After John Adam’s death, his wealth allowed his family to own his estate for another hundred years. Following the death of many other presidents, the families were forced to sell what was left in order to escape financial debt. Without Abigail Adams, John Adams would not have been such a prosperous man. Abigail Adams was an inspiration to John Adams, leading him to a prosperous life. Abigail Adams claimed her independence, and went against laws that were sexist.
After Abigail Adam’s death, it was discovered that she left most of her property to her granddaughters. At this time, there were laws that stated after a woman’s death, her estate would be left to her husband. Abigail Adam’s was aware of this law before leaving her estate to her granddaughters. She went against the sexist laws, knowing what she did was illegal, to provide wealth and prosperity to her lineage. Abigail Adams played a strong role in the advancement of women’s rights, as she fought for women’s education, was the backbone of her marriage, encouraged her husband to create more laws to benefit women, and fought for her granddaughters to have an inheritance.
Women have been fighting for equal rights since colonial times. Without the contributions of Anne Hutchinson, Anne Bradstreet, and Abigail Adams, women’s rights would not be as advanced as they are today. These women risked their reputations and lives in order to gain legal equality. They were the first fighters for women’s rights in America and their contributions continue to be an inspiration for women.
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