Origins, Revolutions, and Women in the Nations
In Part III, women's writings are viewed from several perspectives: over time, from Native peoples and the first settlers to participants in the War for Independence to second- and third-generation Americans; and in terms of the numerous genres that women explored as forms in which to express their personal feelings, religious beliefs, philosophical debates, and literary talents. Although important individually, cumulatively these documents also detail American women's intellectual history in a way that informs our understanding of how someone like Judith Sargent Murray came to write her proclamation on equality. Although many of these accounts are not in traditional literary forms, the letters, diaries, and other modes of personal expression, when combined with published texts (from petitions to plays), challenge our conceptions of what we mean by "literature," by the recording of history, and by women's roles in Native, colonial, revolutionary, and federal America. Cumulatively, these texts also begin to define early women's poetics and therein offer many opportunities for reconceptualizing studies of later women's writings and early American studies in general.
The title of the "First Women" section is intended both as an ironic and a serious designation. In the former mode, it is meant as a satirical juxtaposition with the concept of "First Ladies," that ubiquitous term that identifies women only in relation to their renowned spouses. While some of the women writers in this section may meet that criterion, it is for their own contributions that they have been included in this anthology. In the latter mode, "First Women" is intended specifically to emphasize that the true first women were those who were native to the North American continent for centuries before European settlement. Rather than continue separatist distinctions, however, it also refers to women who recorded their initial responses to resettlement in a foreign region.
There is another level on which the authors included in this section and throughout the anthology need to be understood. The eighteenth century's international redefinition of the concept of genius into a highly gendered and exclusionary realm acted as a major instrument in the exclusion of women from the designation of "first-rate" thinkers and writers. The terminology of "intellectual" or "original" artistry has excluded--and continues to exclude--