Women who shaped history with a pen
Many people in the 1600s and 1700s never learned to read or write. Some towns didn't have schools. And there were no laws that said everyone had to attend school. More men than women were educated; women who received an education were mostly wealthy. Less-fortunate women seldom got the opportunity.Skip to next paragraph
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Women and girls were less likely to be taught to read because they weren't expected to have careers outside the home.
But the Puritans rejected this belief. They were a group that came to the New World from Europe to find freedom of worship. They believed in educating girls and women - rich, poor, and middle-class - so they could read the Bible for themselves.
As an English Puritan, young Anne Bradstreet (who lived from 1612 until 1672) was taught to read and write. Her father was steward of a great English lord's estate, so she had access to a nobleman's grand library. That gave the intelligent young woman an opportunity to keep learning. When she married, her dashing husband, Simon Bradstreet, also encouraged her. She would one day become America's first published poet and its first female writer.
A hundred years later, Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) loved to to debate politics with her father and his friends. She became America's first woman playwright. She was also widely known for her skill at raising patriotic fervor for the American colonists before and during the Revolutionary War.
The historic accomplishments of both women have been undervalued. But they still have much to tell us. Each embodied the spirit of her own era - and the new spirit of freedom in early America.
During Women's History Month, let's take a closer look at these two pioneering women.
Imagine yourself on a journey across the sea - sailing aboard a small ship for nearly three months, packed in with other pioneers, and with meager supplies. Imagine crossing the freezing Atlantic Ocean, only to arrive weary and frightened in a vast wilderness where only a few people speak your language.
When Anne Bradstreet arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony with her family and her husband of two years, she was 18 years old.
The smart, cultured daughter of a prominent Puritan didn't like what she saw. "I found a new world and new manners at which my heart rose," she later wrote. What she meant was that she rebelled against the uncomfortable conditions and comfortless houses. She longed for her happy life in England.
Her father and her husband, Simon, helped run the new colonial government. Both would eventually serve as Massachusetts governors. Maintaining the Bradstreet home was Anne's job.
In a new biography, "Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet," Charlotte Gordon tells Anne's gripping tale, including hardships and delights, in a clear, lively style.
Ms. Gordon says that when she was a young woman, she wanted to be both a mom and a writer. And she needed a role model who had done both.
"One of the things I love about Anne," says Gordon in a recent interview, "is the confidence she got from being a mom and how it enhanced her career.... I think young women need role models of smart, ambitious women who have achieved extraordinary things, and at the same time, they have been happy successful wives and mothers."
Remember that a woman of that era had to make the soap before she could wash the family's clothes by hand, help grow the food before she cooked it, and make the candles before she could illumine the night.