III. The Status of a Woman in a Puritan Family
III.1 the Typical Respective Roles
III.2 Becoming a little bit more Independent
IV. The Position of Women in a Religious Context
IV.1 Equality on the surface
IV.2 Religion Ordered by Gender
IV.3 Religion Ordered by Education
In order to examine women’s status and life in a Puritan society in the New World, we first have to know why people left their native country. Marilyn J. Westerkamp tries to give some reasons in her book Women and Religion in Early America: In the early sixteenth century the Reformation arrived in England (3) and in the following decades a Puritan culture developed. A website tells us that in its core a description of man’s direct relationship to God could be found and that thus no one needed a priest to contact God.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Puritan movement was attacked by Anglican bishops so that a few tried to flee. When Charles І became monarch, a tendency of being less tolerant towards Puritan clerics grew; as a result of this many influential Puritans were arrested. Due to the fact that under the reign of this king numerous ceremonies were formalized and made more complex, the Puritans felt that religious ceremonies became artificial and thus their dissatisfaction grew. From 1628 on, they started to think of emigration to escape the monarch’s control (Westerkamp 13).
English Puritans founded in April 1630 a colony in the New World, called New England. Westerkamp calls this community, which was built in the wilderness, a “holy experiment”. As New England was created with the help of England, but without an interference of the monarch (Westerkamp 14), it was possible to develop the colony independently from the oversea’s monarchy. In this “experiment” as many women as men were involved and due to the direct contact between God and the individual, religious power could be given to anybody (Westerkamp 11). Therefore the status and the role of a woman might differ to that in England.
Horton Davies explores the importance of a marriage in the Puritan New World in his book The Worship of the American Puritans and finds out that the majority of the Puritans in America were married in the seventeenth century. He also claims that remarriages took place after a very short interval (188). In order to proof his claim, we can take an example of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation: Edward Winslow, a widower of less than two months, married Susannah, the widow of William White, who had only been a widow for
three months (Bradford 86). But why is it such a necessity to be married in the Puritan society? Davies gives two main reasons: On the one hand there would be too many dangers of single males and especially females; on the other hand there was a biblical reason. Davies quotes Genesis 2:18 “Then the Lord God said it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Puritans saw this as a command of God himself. This quotation explains the Puritan idea of the “God of order”; he arranged every relationship in a way, so that one party was subordinate to the other, which meant that a wife was subordinate to her husband and that she should support him1 (Davies 191). During the ceremony the wife promised to be “a loving, faithful and obedient wife”, as Davies quotes Peter Hall’s The Parliamentary Directory (Davies 193). Especially the word “obedient” implied that a wife had to accept her husband as the superior part of their marriage and that she had to accept her lower rank.
remark: the term “America” is used with the meaning of “New World” or “oversea colonies”, the term itself developed later