Women in Early America

Women in Early America

Women in Early America

Women in Early America


Women in Early America, edited by Thomas A. Foster, tells the fascinating stories of the myriad women who shaped the early modern North American world from the colonial era through the first years of the Republic. This volume goes beyond the familiar stories of Pocahontas or Abigail Adams, recovering the lives and experiences of lesser-known women- both ordinary and elite, enslaved and free, Indigenous and immigrant- who lived and worked in not only British mainland America, but also New Spain, New France, New Netherlands, and the West Indies.

In these essays we learn about the conditions that women faced during the Salem witchcraft panic and the Spanish Inquisition in New Mexico; as indentured servants in early Virginia and Maryl∧ caught up between warring British and Native Americans; as traders in New Netherlands and Detroit; as slave owners in Jamaica; as Loyalist women during the American Revolution; enslaved in the President's house; and as students and educators inspired by the air of equality in the young nation.

Foster showcases the latest research of junior and senior historians, drawing from recent scholarship informed by women's and gender history- feminist theory, gender theory, new cultural history, social history, and literary criticism. Collectively, these essays address the need for scholarship on women's lives and experiences. Women in Early America heeds the call of feminist scholars to not merely reproduce male-centered narratives, "add women, and stir," but to rethink master narratives themselves so that we may better understand how women and men created and developed our historical past.


In the 1970s, the scholarly study of American women’s history was in its infancy and its focus was largely on the nineteenth century. Toward the end of the decade, however, a group of intrepid—or, as others saw us, foolhardy—scholars began to commit themselves to the study of colonial and Revolutionary era women. Friends and advisors warned against it: best, they said, to continue to tread the paths that had led to publications and, in several cases, tenure at respectable universities. It was not that these colleagues necessarily lacked sympathy for the topic; they simply doubted it could be tackled. Everyone knew there were simply no sources to mine, no archives sheltering untapped treasures, and no big questions around which to shape an argument.

Despite all the good advice, the women of my generation persisted. Dogged research—and sometimes stubborn challenges to archivists— turned up diaries and letters, buried under inventory labels like “miscellanea” and “family records.” Women’s voices, it appeared, were not forever lost; they could be recovered. And women’s experiences could be reconstructed. Articles and books began to appear, a mélange of contribution history, victim narratives, and accounts of resistance to established gender ideology. Our primary focus was recovery and restoration, and our goal was to repopulate the canvas of the colonial and Revolutionary eras with women as participants in shaping that world.

Much of the work we did, like pioneer work in any field, will not stand the test of time. For example, the voices we discovered were, with few exceptions, those of white elite women, and thus they emerged as the central actors in our earliest efforts. Too often we universalized their experiences, assuming that they were the American woman. And, much . . .

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