Status of Women in New England by the End of the 17th Century

First Section:

During the seventeenth century, the role of women in New England underwent significant changes and developments. Understanding the social landscape of the time provides valuable insights into the lives of women and their contributions to various aspects of society.

Education and Intellectual Pursuits: Women in New England had limited access to education during this period. Educational opportunities for women were gradually expanding, particularly in Puritan communities, where literacy was highly valued. Women were primarily educated in basic literacy and religious teachings, allowing them to read religious texts and actively participate in religious discussions and practices.

Marriage and Family Life: Women’s primary role in New England society was centered around marriage and family life. The expectations of women in marriage were mainly focused on managing the household, raising children, and supporting their husbands. Women played a crucial role in maintaining the family unit and passing down cultural and religious values to the next generation.

Religious Life: Religion held a central place in Puritan New England society, and women played a significant role in the religious community. While women were not allowed to formally preach or hold leadership positions within the church, they actively participated in religious gatherings, prayer meetings, and informal spiritual guidance to their families and communities.

Legal and Property Rights: Women in New England had limited legal rights and power. They were unable to vote or hold public office, and their legal status was largely dependent on their husbands or male relatives. Some women did have the right to own and inherit property under certain circumstances, especially in cases of widowhood.

Work and Economic Contributions: Women’s work in New England was primarily centered around the household and family. They engaged in tasks such as childcare, domestic chores, and agricultural work. In addition to their contributions to the household economy, some women also participated in cottage industries, such as textile production, to supplement the family’s income.

By exploring the role of women in education, marriage and family life, religious practices, legal rights, and economic contributions, we can better understand the changing status and evolving roles that women held in New England society by the end of the seventeenth century.


Key takeaway:

  • Women in New England had limited access to education: During the seventeenth century, women in New England had limited opportunities for education, with only a few girls receiving formal schooling.
  • Women played important roles in family life: Women were expected to fulfill domestic roles, including childbearing and raising children, contributing to the stability and growth of the family unit.
  • Women had limited legal and property rights: Women had few legal rights and were not allowed to own or inherit property, which limited their financial independence and autonomy.

The Role of Women in New England by the End of the Seventeenth Century

The role of women in late 17th century New England, by the end of the seventeenth century, was primarily limited to domestic responsibilities. They managed household chores, raised children, and maintained religious and moral values. Women were expected to be obedient to their husbands and were not involved in politics or the legal system. Their access to education was limited and they were discouraged from pursuing careers outside the home. Despite these restrictions, some women had influence in their communities through religious activities, and others ran small businesses.

One remarkable story from this time is that of Anne Bradstreet, a poet from Massachusetts. Despite societal expectations, she published her poetry and became the first notable American poet. Her collection “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America” gained recognition in the New England colonies and England. Bradstreet’s achievements challenged traditional gender roles, showing that women were capable of intellectual and artistic pursuits. Her story is a reminder that women were able to make a significant impact and leave a mark on history, even with limited opportunities available to them.

Education and Intellectual Pursuits

During the seventeenth century in New England, women had limited opportunities for education and intellectual pursuits. There were still options available to them.

– Tutoring: Wealthy families could hire private tutors to provide education for their daughters, ensuring they received proper education and could pursue intellectual interests.

– Dame schools: Some women ran dame schools in their homes, offering basic education to young children, both boys and girls. This provided an opportunity for girls to engage in educational activities.

– Apprenticeships: Girls could be apprenticed to learn skills such as needlework, cooking, or midwifery, enabling them to pursue intellectual pursuits in practical areas.

– Religious instruction: Girls learned to read so they could study the Bible and engage in religious activities, expanding their knowledge and intellectual growth.

– Informal learning: Girls could learn from their mothers or female family members and develop skills in household management, cooking, and traditional crafts through observation and experience, fostering their intellectual development.

While education for women in New England during this time was limited compared to men, these opportunities allowed some women to engage in intellectual pursuits and gain knowledge that would benefit them throughout their lives.

Did Women in New England Have Access to Education?

Women in New England had access to education by the end of the seventeenth century. While not as easily accessible for women as it was for men during this time, opportunities for girls to receive an education did exist. Some higher social class families believed in educating their daughters and provided them with education at home. Private tutors were sometimes employed to teach reading, writing, and other subjects to young girls.

Formal schools or universities that accepted female students were not widely available in New England at that time. Existing girls’ schools mainly focused on teaching domestic skills and basic literacy.

It’s important to note that the level of education varied among women based on their social class and family background. While some women had access to more advanced education, most received limited education that prepared them for their roles as wives and mothers.

What Intellectual Pursuits Were Available to Women?

During the late seventeenth century in New England, women had limited opportunities for intellectual pursuits. They focused mainly on domestic duties and raising their families. There were some available pursuits for women during this time.

Women in New England had access to basic education, primarily focused on religious teachings. They learned to read and write to understand religious texts and their faith. They also studied the Bible and engaged in theological discussions to deepen their religious understanding.

Some women in New England taught in schools or educated their own children at home. They were encouraged to improve themselves by reading and writing. They wrote diaries, kept journals, and corresponded with others to exchange ideas and maintain intellectual stimulation.

Although not as widely available as for men, women had access to books and literature. They could read religious tracts, poetry, and moralizing literature that promoted virtues and moral behavior. Some women also pursued artistic activities like needlework and embroidery, expressing their creativity and improving their skills.

What Intellectual Pursuits Were Available to Women?

Marriage and Family Life

Marriage and family life played a significant role in the late seventeenth-century New England society, with a strong emphasis on their value. For women, marriage was both a personal choice and a social and economic necessity. Typically, women in New England would marry in their late teens or early twenties, seeking security and stability in their personal and financial lives through marriage.

Once married, women were expected to fulfill their family responsibilities as wives and mothers. They took charge of managing the household, raising children, and maintaining social connections. Within the family unit, women played a crucial role in instilling religious and moral values in their children.

Despite their important roles within the family, women had limited autonomy. Their legal rights were often subordinate to their husbands’, leaving them with little control over their own property and finances.

Elizabeth, a young woman in New England, embraced her role in marriage and family life by marrying her childhood sweetheart at the age of 18. As a young wife, she diligently managed the household, cared for their children, and ensured everything ran smoothly. Despite the challenges and restrictions faced by women during that era, Elizabeth found joy and fulfillment in her marriage and the bonds with her children. She cultivated a loving and nurturing environment for her family and gained high respect within her community for her dedication to her marriage and family life.

What Were the Expectations of Women in Marriage?

Women in seventeenth century New England were expected to fulfill specific roles and responsibilities in marriage. What were the expectations of women in marriage? These expectations included bearing children, raising a family, and taking care of the household and their family’s well-being. In addition to their domestic duties, women were also expected to be obedient and submissive to their husbands, prioritizing their family’s needs over their own desires and aspirations. It’s important to acknowledge that these expectations varied based on social status and economic circumstances. Wealthier women may have had more control over household affairs, while poorer women may have had to work outside the home to contribute to the family’s income. The story of Elizabeth Johnson exemplifies these expectations, as she devoted herself to her role as a wife and mother, despite facing challenges and hardships.

How Did Women Contribute to Family Life?

Women in New England in the late seventeenth century made significant contributions to family life. They managed the household, cared for the children, and attended to the family’s health needs. Women also provided emotional support, creating a loving and nurturing atmosphere. They passed down cultural and religious traditions, taught morals and values to their children, and resolved conflicts within the family. Their contributions were integral to maintaining a functioning and harmonious family unit.

Religious Life

Religious Life

By the end of the seventeenth century in New England, women’s religious life was closely tied to their societal roles. They played an important role in maintaining religious communities and following strict religious practices.

1. Worship attendance: Women regularly attended religious services with their families to show their piety. Going to church was a significant part of their religious life.

2. Religious education: Women learned about religion through family and church teachings. They were responsible for teaching their children and fostering a strong Christian faith in their households.

3. Church involvement: While women couldn’t hold positions of power in the church, they actively took part in church activities such as prayer meetings, charity work, and sewing groups. They were key in building a sense of community.

4. Spiritual guidance: Women sought guidance from church leaders and engaged in personal devotion, prayer, and contemplation. They developed their own relationship with God and sought spiritual growth.

5. Moral conduct: Women were expected to follow strict moral standards based on religious teachings. They were supposed to embody virtues like modesty and humility in their daily lives.

Further exploration of women’s religious life in seventeenth-century New England can involve studying religious texts and journals written by women of that time, examining the impact of the Great Awakening on women’s religious experiences, and investigating the role of women in religious dissident movements. Understanding women’s religious life in this historical context provides valuable insights into their agency, contributions, and the complexities of their experiences.

What Role Did Women Play in the Religious Community?

Women played a crucial role in the religious community in New England by the end of the seventeenth century. They actively participated in religious services and were devout followers of their faith. Women attended church regularly and contributed to the spiritual welfare of their families. They transmitted religious values and teachings to their children.

Despite being barred from preaching or holding leadership positions within the church, women were actively involved in various other aspects of religious life. They organized and took part in prayer groups, Bible studies, and religious gatherings within their communities. They played a pivotal role in charitable activities, offering aid to those in need and tending to the sick and elderly.

The community highly cherished women’s dedication to religious practices and their steadfast commitment to upholding religious values. Their involvement in religious life served to strengthen the social fabric of New England.

Historical records affirm that women’s participation in religious activities in New England was paramount in shaping religious communities and preserving the religious traditions and values that continue to resonate today.

Were Women Allowed to Preach or Hold Leadership Positions?

During the seventeenth century in New England, women were not allowed to preach or hold leadership positions within the religious community. Men held all positions of authority in the church, which was the center of community life. Women could attend church services, listen to sermons, and participate in prayer and worship, but they couldn’t deliver sermons or lead congregations.

This restriction was based on the belief in male authority and the traditional interpretation of biblical teachings on gender roles. It was believed that men were the ordained leaders of the church and should guide the spiritual lives of the community.

While women had important roles in teaching children and engaging in acts of charity, they were consistently excluded from formal authority positions. This limited their influence on church policies and practices. So, were women allowed to preach or hold leadership positions? The answer is no.

Legal and Property Rights

Women in seventeenth-century New England had limited legal and property rights. Legal rights encompassed their ability to own property in their own name, while property rights entailed the ownership of their belongings. These rights were curtailed by societal norms and prevailing laws. Understandably, women were unable to claim sole ownership of property, as their husbands automatically became the legal owners. Financial transactions also required the approval of their spouses, leaving women in a subordinate position. Regrettably, divorce cases rarely resulted in fair settlements for women, and they often experienced the loss of custody over their children.

To delve deeper into this subject, further research could be conducted to explore the influence of the Puritan religion on women’s rights during this era. Examining whether any exceptions existed to the limited legal rights for women would shed light on the potential variability within the legal system. Analyzing the role of colonial laws in shaping women’s legal and property rights would provide valuable insights. It would be insightful to investigate the impact of social and economic factors on women’s rights in this specific context. To gain a comprehensive understanding, a comparative analysis of legal and property rights for women in New England with other regions or time periods should also be considered.

What Legal Rights Did Women Have?

In the late seventeenth century, women in New England had limited legal rights. They could not vote or hold public office. They had legal rights related to property. Married women could own property, but it was often seen as belonging to their husbands. Women could also inherit property from their parents or other relatives, although they were sometimes disinherited in favor of male relatives.

Despite these limited rights, women in New England asserted themselves and protected their interests. They actively managed their households and engaged in economic activities like farming, trading, and craftwork. They also made contracts and worked in business.

While women did not have the same rights as men, they had significant influence on their families and communities. They raised and educated their children, maintained the household, and played an important role in religious life. Women actively participated in the church, attending services, engaging in religious activities, and contributing to the spiritual well-being of their communities. So, what legal rights did women have?

Were Women Allowed to Own or Inherit Property?

Women in seventeenth-century New England were predominantly not allowed to own or inherit property. The prevailing notion of that era’s patriarchal society dictated that property ownership was reserved for men, leaving women with restricted legal rights when it came to property matters. These limited rights greatly affected women’s economic independence and hindered their ability to amass wealth.

At the time, inheritance laws heavily favored male heirs, making it challenging for women to inherit property from their parents or other relatives. Consequently, women’s lack of property ownership had a profound impact on their financial autonomy and their capacity to accumulate prosperity.

Nonetheless, there were occasional instances where women managed to own or inherit property. Such cases were exceptional and often arose under particular circumstances, such as widowhood or being unmarried without any male heirs.

It is important to recognize that the restricted ability for women to possess or inherit property during seventeenth-century New England mirrored the larger societal norms and gender roles prevalent at the time. It was not until later in history that considerable advancements were made in women’s property rights and legal equality.

Work and Economic Contributions

By the end of the seventeenth century, women in New England played a crucial role in the work and economic contributions of their communities. They actively participated in various sectors such as farming, crafts and cottage industries, trade and commerce, household economy, and education.

In terms of farming, women in New England contributed by helping with planting, harvesting, and tending to crops, which ensured a steady food supply for their families and communities.

When it came to crafts and cottage industries, women played a significant role in making textiles. They would engage in tasks like spinning wool and weaving cloth, which were essential for everyday life in New England.

Women also made substantial contributions to trade and commerce. They managed household businesses and participated in small-scale trading ventures, thus contributing to the local economy.

In terms of household economy, women took charge of overseeing finances, budgeting, and resource allocation. Their efforts aimed to ensure financial stability and the well-being of their families.

Some women in New England were involved in education and teaching. They helped educate young children in basic skills, which further contributed to the overall development of the community.

The work and economic contributions of women in New England during this time period played a vital role in the survival and prosperity of their communities. These contributions sustained families and fostered social and economic growth.

What Jobs Were Women Engaged in?

During the late seventeenth century in New England, women held various jobs that contributed to the economy and society. Women were engaged in a range of occupations, including domestic work, agriculture, crafts and cottage industries, midwifery, tavern keeping, and trading and shopkeeping.

1. Domestic Work: Women worked as servants in households, performing tasks like cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

2. Agriculture: Women played a crucial role in farming, assisting with planting, tending, and harvesting crops.

3. Crafts and Cottage Industries: Women were skilled in crafts like weaving, spinning, and sewing. They made textiles, clothing, and other artisanal goods.

4. Midwifery: Women often served as midwives, helping with childbirth and providing medical assistance to other women.

5. Tavern Keepers: Some women owned and operated taverns, offering lodging, food, and entertainment to travelers.

6. Trading and Shopkeeping: Women managed small shops and engaged in trade, selling goods like groceries, household items, and textiles.

It is important to note that the specific jobs women had varied based on their social status, economic resources, and geographic location. These examples highlight the diverse and essential roles women played in the workforce during this period.

Fact: Women’s contributions to the economy were often overlooked and undervalued during the seventeenth century. Despite societal expectations and limitations, women actively participated in the workforce and played a vital role in sustaining their communities.

Did Women Contribute to the Economy of New England?

Women in New England played crucial roles in the economy by engaging in various activities. They contributed significantly to agricultural work, such as farming and gardening, which were essential for sustaining households and communities. They actively participated in cottage industries, producing textiles, candles, and soap that were indispensable for everyday life.

Women were actively involved in trade and commerce. They sold surplus products from their homes and farms in local and regional markets, and some even took part in overseas trade either with their husbands or independently.

It is important to acknowledge that women’s opportunities were often limited by societal norms and legal restrictions. They primarily operated within the domestic sphere and were under the authority of male family members. Despite these constraints, their economic activities provided valuable support to their households and contributed significantly to the growing economy of New England.

Some Facts About Women in New England by the End of the Seventeenth Century:

  • ✅ Women in New England were expected to bear children and perform household tasks as part of their daily lives.
  • ✅ Puritan society in New England was male-dominated, with women having limited rights such as the inability to own property or vote.
  • ✅ The experiences of women in New England were shaped by their social group, religious beliefs, and societal norms.
  • ✅ Marriage was seen as essential for women in New England, and they typically married in their early twenties based on economic and social considerations.
  • ✅ Women in New England had limited legal rights and were represented by male relatives in legal matters.