READ BELOW STUDENT RESPONSE AND ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS
Response post: In addition to answering any follow-up questions I might ask in my feedback, address the following in your second post:
Was there a constant theme in the discussion?
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What different ideas were brought out in the discussion? Which ones do you agree or disagree with?
How do you now perceive this period/topic after reading the posts and doing the research?
Minimum length: at least 250 words.
Women of European descent in colonial America shared many similar experiences. Whether living in the New England colony of Massachusetts, or further south in Virginia, virtually all experienced many hardships. Because they were new to this continent, and there were no urban centers, or even long-established towns nearby, there was an endless amount of work to be done by these women. Social class generally did not cause variation. Even the wealthy women had to work like crazy to try and approximate the standard European life. Both sets of women came for a better life. Those in Massachusetts often came for religious “freedom,” while those in Virginia tended to come for economic opportunities. As such, there were often more whole families and married women coming to Massachusetts, while Virginia saw the immigration of more single women. Most single colonial women from both areas wanted to marry, which resulted in their shared loss of rights and privileges. Despite their lack of status and rights as married women, both groups were often left in charge of the family business, whether at the shops in the North, or the farms in the South, while their husbands were away for long periods of time on business. Due to lack of time, lack of quality water, or lack of desire, personal hygiene was not a priority for women from either area. Living and working around the continuous rhythm of pregnancy and breastfeeding was common for colonial women in both areas.
While the women in Massachusetts and Virginia shared many of the same experiences, there were notable differences in their daily lives. Massachusetts women often lived into their sixties or even eighties, while life expectancy in the Chesapeake area was less than forty-five years. The northern women were more likely to have a life-long marriage, while southern women were often widowed multiple times due to the mortality rate of southern men.
One major advantage for the Massachusetts women was the community they experienced with each other. They tended to live closer together in towns and relied on each other for social connection, help with current needs, and celebrating new births. One downside to having more neighbors for the wealthier, higher class women of New England was the responsibility to shelter countless others during invasion threats from Native tribes. Elizabeth Saltonstall was one such woman, who had the demanding task of sheltering sixty guests for many months. In contrast, Virginia women tended to live on farms that were often miles from the nearest neighbor. As such, southerners tended to experience more loneliness. Because half of southern children died before adulthood, southern women undoubtedly suffered more grief from loss of life. Another advantage the New England women had was that they were usually provided with the minimal education needed to be able to read their Bibles. Most Virginian women were illiterate, and only one-third could sign their own name.
Where the early Virginian women found their advantage was from the sheer necessity of living in their more agricultural society. Women were known to pilot canoes, hunt, and cultivate the fields as well as men. Because of this blurring or semi-suspension of gender roles, these women garnered an independence that would not be seen by later generations until roughly the 20th century. It was not unheard of for wives to run away from unhappy marriages, smoke with the men after church, or speak their mind freely to authorities.
In these early years, social class or status did not generally have a big impact on the differences in women’s lives, regardless of where they lived. All had to work extra hard, all had to conform (or not) to their communities’ expectations of gender roles, and all suffered the hardships of regional climate, whether it be the long and bitterly cold winters of New England, or the swampy climate of the Chesapeake.