Essay Example on the Role of White Women in Colonial Massachusetts and Virginia

Published: 2022-03-30
Essay Example on the Role of White Women in Colonial Massachusetts and Virginia
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Women American history
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1806 words
16 min read

One of the most defining times in America was during the colonization period. The side one stood on counts to this day. America, as it is today, is because of its citizen's choices. The virtues that have been passed along of emanating from the gender roles that different sexes took. Women's roles like those of men these roles varied depending on the period, geography, and race of the people involved. The different roles played develop from the diverse backgrounds of their family. Whether they were treated right or mistreated, these aspects contributed to the role women played in their families and communities (Norton, 3). White women came to America from England, and most of them could not cope with the hard life being led in the Americas. If at all they survived, a handful of them had equally succumbed to one thing or the other. Those that survived and took land with their husbands were in for hard labor that characterized the settler population back then.

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This paper will specifically compare and contrast white women roles in Massachusetts and Virginia. Nonetheless, placing this discussion in context is inevitable. Understanding the happenings of the 1740-1792 periods requires a comprehensive understanding of the general roles of the women on what was then the British's first colony, Virginia, and the later colonies of the likes of Massachusetts. Women were limited to a great deal to their gender roles. The gendered violence that helped establish colonial domination also came to their benefit. The eighteenth-century white woman resided in majorly poor household farms through which they had assisted the British government in forming colonies.

All this period, the women took an inferior role to the man even if she was smarter or capable of doing certain things better; they still ranked below men. It was, therefore, no surprise that the initial settlers in Jamestown were all men, all set out to find wealth and return to England. They were the property of the men they lived with, be one's father or husband. Women were under the control of their father's for the unmarried and their husbands for the married. This act was to ensure they remained chaste. There were no laws on abusive relationships. Abusive husbands were, therefore, an everyday thing. The hierarchical structure of the eighteenth century had the woman as the man's helpmate, and the female children helped her along.

Economically, Women had a central part to play. Women directed the all daily activities in their family. They did everything from their sewing clothes to mending them and to cook for the family. They stayed at home, training their daughters on how to take care of their future husbands, as expected. In cases where the woman had to work outside the home, she ensured she had a daughter at home helping her with domestic chores. As such, the size of the family did not matter much like the consideration that she had at least a daughter at home. Additionally, these women interacted with farmlands for subsistence purposes. However, with the introduction of the commercial production of tobacco, every hand that was available. These White women, therefore, took to farm hard labor. The need to return the white women to her dutiful role began with the bringing of female slaves to the colonies. The white women who were mainly transplanted European women returned to the traditional roles in the homesteads.

The bottom line is that the female whites enjoyed that differentiated them from men roles even when, for many families, the American Revolutionary War separated them. Political, social, economic, and geographic experiences during these colonial times helped them shape their roles from the more traditional ones they had been accustomed to, to one that suited the rallying call of 1740-1792. Men were no longer present to instruct their wife on the ordinary aspects of their domestic life.


By 1740, the colonial government had created thirteen colonies in total. Virginia alongside Maryland and South Carolina were southern colonies. These southern colonies exhibited large plantations, and from the historical perspective given in the paper, that fact almost immediately set the role of women into perspective. The woman here was the property of the men in her life, and they controlled all her spheres of life. For the women, the daily running of the household, and making the family home comfortable and hospitable for the men working out in the field was her all-time duty. Women were viewed in the light of "childbearing, nursing the sick, caring for the aged, ingenuity in the use of materials" (Scott, and Lebsock). The women's duty in the southern colonies, more so in Virginia would by 1740 and running through to 1792 change distinctly and the scourge of colonialism ate in to their daily life. Liberties that they probably enjoyed would be curtailed making going by difficult.

Similarly, the daily life of the Massachusetts woman was no different. They were a part of the settle population that had made its way to the Americas from Britain. Their roles were, therefore, the traditional English women. That is, captivating themselves with domestic chores ranging from making clothes, sewing new clothes for the family, mending dilapidating ones to preparing everyday meals and comforts for the family that counted on her. Their only help came from the daughters born in the family. In this aspect, the Massachusetts woman and the Virginia one were very much alike.


The women in Virginia made a considerable contribution to the cementing of slave culture. In all of its changing facets, slavery was designed increasingly to benefit the white masters. It was in their freedom to decide which freedom to curtail their subjects. By mid-1700s, slaves had replaced entirely European workers contracted to work for five to seven years in exchange for basic livelihood necessities. White women's role by this time had expanded, and they could accomplish more. The economic growth of the time could as well be attributed to them. Their position as slave masters, however, left fellow black women working more for less. Therefore, the white women in Virginia also served as an obstacle for the advancement of fellow women placed in circumstances that they did not choose themselves.

While there was significant prosperity during this period, life was even harder for the women then, No one had even thought of anything bordering gender equality. In Virginia, marriage for the white women meant being in total authority. Being a woman meant obeying men and towing their line and the life choice they made on one's behalf. However, with slaves at their disposal to run their errands, it was perhaps soothing to do whatever pleased the men. These women took on more of luxury chores like tending the garden. Done partly by helpers, of a few slave helpers to take good care of the dairy, chicken coop and smokehouse ventures mainly established for use by the household.

Another exciting phase in the life of the Virginia women was the adolescent years. These young women were denied much education. They were offered just enough for the sufficient running of the plantation. Greek and Latin learned by their brothers were passed to them in limited classes confining these young women to dresses making, learning to play instruments, spend time gossiping and at times flirting with young men. This culture was the total opposite of the earlier colonial women who at all time were helping their mothers in preparing a comfortable and welcoming home for the men out working on top of learning how to later cater for their husbands in future. It was indeed a time of working in freedom as the plantation mistresses at the time only care on how to shine their mahogany furniture, silverware, clean imported rugs through the ample supply of slaves.

In contrast, white women in Massachusetts, owing to their Puritan backgrounds tended to hold fast on to their beliefs. Their most important role was that of a mother. Their coming to America did not achieve what they set out to do. Women were to take tasks that are more traditional, but by the mid-1700s, Puritan women were already breadwinners for their families. Apparently, they were not also supposed to take part in politics. The other religious group was the Quakers. These two groups had left England in search of freedom of lifestyle and worship. Their need for a more equitable society was their drive. This is opposed to the very patriarchal society founded in Virginia by wealth seeking men from abroad. Amongst the Quakers and the Puritans, their push to leave England was the desire to worship freely, men and women alike, living the life they wanted and affording the opportunities they felt worth. The women in Massachusetts s society were thus free to the extent that they could Quakers, for instance, took men and women as equals. They could, therefore, be regarded as the triggers of the gender equality among the American settlers. At the time, however, the thought maybe have looked upon with scorn. Women among the Quakers were also allowed to hold position their places of worship and to travel widely to advance the ministry.The women in Massachusetts white community were encouraged to take on education owing to these roles. This was perhaps in the realization of how much confidence knowledge imparts. Therefore, women spoke openly in meetings, and it was seen as a "fulfillment of God's will as opposed to disobedience of a divine directive" (


From the discussion above, settlers came to America for very different reasons. As such, their backgrounds that influenced the roles that woman eventually took up and embraced were as varied. The common ground for these groups of women was the fact that they were all required to care for their families in the very traditional aspects carried with them across the ocean from England. These women were supposed to extend the lineages of their respective group at the very least. However, since their objectives for coming to America was never the same to start with, a point of divergence had to manifest. The earlier settlers of Virginia with increasing production work took up slaves, while their wife and daughters took on more idle roles away from their previous traditional ones. However, the remained oppressed in patriarchy. Quakers and Puritans had come in the quest for the freedom to worship and live life in its abundance freely. With them began the concepts of gender equality and changing gender roles.

Cited Works

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty's Daughters. 1st ed., ACLS History E-Book Project, 2005. "Gender Roles." Puritans And Quakers, 2018, Accessed 5 Mar 2018.

Scott, Anne Firor, and Suzanne Lebsock. "Virginia Women: The First Two Hundred Years." History.Org, 2018, Accessed 5 Mar 2018.

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