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Women's History

I am an undergraduate student currently enrolled in a "History of Women, Sex and the Family" course. My professor has assigned us term papers dealing with how colonial women benefitted in early America. However, I was interested in finding out if there is any information out there about the transition of women from Europe to America. I am especially interested in what was offered to these European women to come to this new country, basically, what incentives they had to leave Europe. If you could help me out any, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks a lot, Summer

Thanks for your note to FEMINIST.COM--and for posing your question to me. Your question is the first of its kind that I have received and, therefore, in trying to answer it, I learned something new along the way.

The following is the basics. It comes from The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History.

"Although few histories of the European settlements in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries have acknowledged it, women played a key role in the development of the North American colonies. The first European outposts were composed exclusively or primarily of men. Since these settlements were envisioned as military or trading ventures, that fact is hardly surprising, but the absence of a substantial number of European women among the first settlers had a lasting impact on thse societies subsequent histories....In [these] colonies..men lived in close contact with Native American women...[and this] gave rise to mixed race people who became cultural, political, and economic mediators between Europeans and natives. In other colonies....migrants had difficulty sustaining their societies. Either those colonies fell to stronger powers, as New Netherland did to England in 1665; or they required constant infusion of immigrants to survive, as did VA and MD....[The] European settlements that included large proportions of women from their beginnings--New England, PA, NY, NJ--quickly reproduced themselves. They did not need continued migration from Europe to sustain or expand....Historians once regarded the colonial period as a "golden age" for white women because of their significant contributions to the economy and their employment as widows in a wide variety of occupations, but this interpretation ignored women's lack of access to education, dependent legal status in marriage, and lives of hard work, frequent childbearing, and early death. Now historians assess white women's lives...recognizing that their lives were spent as subordinates to fathers or husbands."

One important thing to keep in mind is that Native American suffered the most--as they were expected to conform to "white peoples hierarchical/patriarchal ways." For more on all of this, this essay references the following:

"Chain Her By One Foot: The Subjugation of Women in 17th Century New France", by Karen Anderson; "The Evolution of White Women's Experience in Early America," by Mary Beth Norton American Historial Review (pages 593-619).

I hope this helps to at least point you in the right direction. Good luck.


Amy

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