Women Rights During Colonial America
Life in Colonial America was by no means easy. Each person had to pitch in to produce the necessities of life. In the southern states, the men outnumbered women by a significant margin, which led to a relatively unstable family life. However, all colonials, male or female, had to work to ensure survival. The work required to sustain a family in the rather bleak environments of the early colonies was demanding for all.
In the era of Colonial America, men played a predominant role in all walks of life. Men subjugated all aspects of society and occupied prestigious positions in religion, economics and government. The colonists held a very traditional attitude with regard to the proper status and role of women. Women had very little power or say in any matter. Women were considered to be the weaker sex, not as strong physically or mentally as men and less emotionally stable. They did not have any legal rights, which meant that they could not vote, hold public office nor participate in legal matters on their own behalf. In short, opportunities for them outside the home were frequently limited. Men dictated and oversaw over everything and everyone; while women were confined to the four walls of the house engaged in household chores. Women were expected to defer to their husbands and be obedient without putting forth any queries. Husbands, in turn, were expected to protect their wives against all threats, even at the cost of their own lives, if necessary. While the women had to sew, cook, take care of domestic animals, make household necessities such as soap, candles and clothing; the men were busy building, plowing, repairing tools, harvesting crops, hunting and fishing.
In 1701 for once, women had a voice in politics. In Albany, New York, a jury of men and women first heard criminal and civil cases. A woman did have a right to vote as long as a man permitted it. In 1769, the Colonies based their laws on England's common law. This law stated that ‘By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage’. Even that privilege ended soon thereafter. In 1777, the Thirteen Colonies passed laws which took away women's voting rights.
The gender discrimination was not restricted to the white women alone. The black women were the most racially disenfranchised group in colonial America. The Southern states instituted slavery and it was believed to be an important economic factor. Male Negroes picked cotton, tended horses and did handyman chores. Females worked in the master's house and also took care of the family's children. Some had illicit sexual affairs with their masters. Children borne from such illegitimate relationships were either sold to Indians as slaves or were killed. With time, the cruelty towards slaves gave rise to the abolitionist movement. The abolitionists were activists who wished to abolish or outlaw slavery. Quakers and Puritans considered slavery a sin. The northern states except for Massachusetts outlawed the practice. The Negro abolitionists such as Phillis Wheatley and Sojourner Truth canvassed against the heinous crime of slavery. They also raised their voice against the oppression of women and demanded equal rights for them. However, neither of the objectives could be accomplished. In fact, gradually women were subjected to greater hardships and suffering.
There is an alternate view to this as well. Despite the traditional restrictions on colonial women, there are instances that indicate that women were often granted legal and economic rights and were allowed to pursue businesses. Although women in Colonial America were not granted an equal status with men, they were supposedly as well off as women anywhere in the world.
More Articles :