Emerging Feminist Voices
As noted in the general introduction, Part II is intended to emphasize the emergence of feminist voices in early America and to act as a bridge between Parts I and III in which many other feminist ideas are recorded. Additionally, there were many women for whom we have no extant writings but whose lives and actions demanded equality for women and challenged the gendered nature of colonial life.
Lady Deborah Moody (?-1659?), for instance, settled in Massachusetts in 1639 where the General Court granted her four hundred acres of land. She added to her properties, built a large home, and joined the Salem church. But the restrictive culture in Massachusetts Bay Colony was stifling for Moody (as it was for Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island). Moody's independent attitudes, especially toward religion, created concerns among the Puritan leaders; John Endecott termed her "a dangerous woeman." Within a few years she left the Bay, settling first in New Netherland with the Dutch and accompanied by a group of followers who were attracted to her Anabaptist leanings. By the mid-1640s she had founded a colony on Long Island in which religious tolerance was the byword.
In Maryland, a similarly independent, land-owning, outspoken woman gained enormous power and recognition: Margaret Brent (c. 1601-c. 1671). Her wisdom, business acumen, and diplomacy in times of political unrest were noted by Governor Calvert, who appointed her executor upon his death. Brent gained power of attorney to act for the Lord Proprietor of Maryland. In this capacity, Margaret Brent gained lasting fame when she became the first woman in the colonies to demand the right to vote. On January 21, 1647/48, she demanded that she be granted two votes by the General Assembly: one in her own right as a landowner, and a second in her official capacity as the Proprietor's attorney. Her request was denied, but Brent continued to voice her official opinions and to act as attorney-of-record in numerous court cases. In an era in which most women were denied existence under the law (see the discussion of feme covert in Part III), Margaret Brent made an extraordinary mark in the history of women's challenges to patriarchal laws and customs.
It was in the eighteenth century, however, and especially in the Revolutionary and early federal years, that we see the most overt changes in women's attitudes about their roles in society and a keener awareness of the gendered