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Women had various experiences in the colonial period among different ethnic groups as well as from colony to colony. During this time, many women were assumed to be inferior to men and had to be submissive to men (Anderson 18-20). The different status, as well as races within the colonies and cultures, was the central consideration of law towards women during this era in America. Some of the reasons why women were considered different in North American was that a large number of women living in North America during this time had been slaves, and few came as free migrants. Studies show that more than 80 percent of women migrated to North America prior to 1800 happened not to be Europeans. Women taken as captives from Gold Coast were between 40 and 49 percent hence outnumbering the men who had been taken from the Bight of Biafra. Additionally, due to the large number of women within North America, they outweighed men among the captives in Native America (Berkin et al. 181-183). For example, over 30 percent of the Native Americans were enslaved within South Carolina, and out of these, women were three times more than the men in slavery. These statistics cut across many parts of America in addition to Spain and France.
In colonial America, there were high chances for women to be adopted and assimilated into different tribes then being executed like their male counterparts. This was basically because of their potential as household, domestic and reproductive capabilities as well as being ready laborers (Berkin et al. 180-185). On the Southern region, especially New Orleans, the women had large numbers than the free black population, with some urban centers allowing them to sell their goods and services. Most women living in America during this era had come as forced migrants from different parts of the world, but mostly Africa. Due to this, background elements of the law were legislated as a result of their fertility as well as race. Due to the doctrine of “progeny follows the womb”, many African slaves derived their status from their mothers.
During the 18th century in the English and colonial America, women were expected to follow strict guidelines. The guidelines had strict instructions on the conduct of women as they were expected to have certain boundaries such as not having any defined legal identity (Anderson 19-23). This made women live in resentment of the existing laws because they were being oppressed legally and socially through the constant changes in the law to restrict their liberties. They resulted in gossiping and taking care of their personal requirements.
During the 18th century, education determined competitiveness in the available economic opportunities. Practical apprenticeships were the basis of any education gained. There was also an emerging trend of individuals receiving a formal education. The education was highly based on gender, and the result was a substantial gap in education between men and women. Education was expensive and costly, making it difficult to invest in educating women or girls due to the fact that they were not the primary providers in a family (Rury 44-46). Additionally, education was viewed as a preparation for public life, which women were not part of. Women were also viewed as being intellectually inferior that men and therefore could not be educated in the same manner as men. Families which had options of educating their girls enrolled them in “dame schools” which were usually informal and operated by other women who were not well educated and therefore offered some kind of babysitting.
Most women were married during this time and good wife was normally used to describe the code of ethics which directed their lives. Good wives happened to have supplementary freedom as well as legal rights compared to the women within the 19th century (Berkin et al. 180-182). Marriage was the normal state for all people and women were expected to get married below 25 years. The women’s life was centered on giving birth and nurturing children. A few women had taken up jobs belonging to men as lawyers, doctors, teachers, writers, and preachers, among others. Other women assisted their husbands in their occupations and were regarded as deputy husbands. Women were also not allowed to vote because the vote of a man was viewed to the position of the family. The woman formed a central part of the family, being in charge of bringing up children and the lead in religious practices.
Some notable women who were influential in colonial America were Catherine Kaidyee, Christiana Campbell and Mary Musgrove. Catherine was born in 1695 and married William Blaikley in 1718. William was a City-County watchmaker and they had three children by the time William died in 1736. Catherine inherited the estate of her husband and remained a widow for a long time, something that was against the laws of the time. Through her estate, she was prosperous, providing lease rooms to lawyers and businesses in Williamsburg at colonial Virginia. It was unacceptable for a widow to provide lodging as an economic activity in the 18th century. She was also a businesswoman in the town, providing goods and services, which made her be widely known. She had pursued a career in midwifery by 1739, and her prominence rose through social pursuit for self-supporting other women. Many referred her as a no ordinary woman.
Christiana Campbell was a famous businesswoman and played a major role in influencing women to be independent and participating in high paying occupations in the corporate world (Berkin et al. 247-252). Mary Musgrove played a major role in enhancing trade by selling fur and prevent potential conflicts and war as she was a good interpreter. They ensured that women were capable of obtaining education, leadership roles and got a chance for self-empowerment and growth to finance their activities. They further made sure that the roles of women in the society improved.
Anderson, Jennifer J. Women's Rights Movement. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2013. Print.
Berkin, Carol, Thomas A. Foster, and Jennifer L. Morgan. Women in Early America. New York: NYU Press, 2015. Print.
Rury, John L. Education and Social Change: Contours in the History of American Schooling. 5th ed. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.
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