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Public Activities Of Women In The Early United States

2411 words - 10 pages

Until more recent scholarly attention in the field of Women’s Studies, the economic history of the colonial United States was almost entirely given from a male perspective. Women in the early United States played a variety of roles in the formation of the new nation, but often times, these roles were dependent on race, class, and geographical distinctions. Despite the differences, however, overarching patterns existed, reflecting a common public attitude toward women at the time. Economic opportunities and gender labor division, often informed by cultural values, for women differed depending on the colony and its individual demands and local customs. In some colonies, the labor value of European women was worth more in the New World than at home, meaning that more economic opportunities could be found for women in the early United States; however, female slaves and indentured servants were offered little legal protection and, therefore, less autonomy. However, after the establishment of the United States, women began to play a greater role in the public sphere, organizing the foundations of the women’s suffrage movement and taking part in abolitionist societies.
Prior to coming to the New World, European women held a specific place in society. Women were responsible for domestic tasks, such as preparing food, making clothing, and raising children. When the settlers initially arrived in the new world, they were appalled at the sight of Native American women performing traditional and manual labor. Unlike their European counterparts, Native American women not only raised children, managed the household, and prepared food, they were also partially responsible for the maintenance of the land since the men were often hunting. In Anglo-American culture, agricultural labor was considered mens’ work (Carmody). However, despite the original aversion to the work of Native American women, European women were needed in the new settlements to assist with economic development as well as to establish a sense of permanency in the new land. In the Chesapeake Bay region, women assisted with tending farmlands and cultivating tobacco, the backbone of the economy in the area. Women sometimes came to the New World as indentured servants, offering their physical labor for 5-7 years in exchange for passage to the New World (Carmody). Younger women often engaged in domestic service for extra income when they were not helping tend to the land.
Despite the relative progressivity of the colonies towards women in comparison to England at the time, laws, religion, and social customs worked in conjunction with one another to maintain separate spheres of work for men and women. The doctrine of coverture, which stated at a woman’s legal identity was to be subsumed by her husband once married, reinforced the prevalence of patriarchal authority and tradition, and it was unquestionably accepted that a woman’s destiny was to be married. Although the domestic sphere and household...

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