Goodwives and Witches: Women in Colonial America

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Goodwives and Witches: Women in Colonial America
Humanities Course
Course CodeGOOD
Years of Operation1998-2001, 2018
Sites OfferedCAR, JHU, LAN, LOS, SAR, STM
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Course Description

From the CTY Course Catalog (1999):

When people think about the Colonial Era in American history, they generally think about wars and Indians and brave men carving out a new society in the new world. The list of women from the colonial era that people can recall is a short one, and includes few more than Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Pocahontas.

In this class, students will not only gain a greater appreciation of the contributions women made to the enterprise of constructing a new society, but they will also discover new ways to study history. The course begins with an overview of gender history, with close attention paid to the development of patriarchy. From there, students will begin to examine the different roles women played in colonial life: from housekeeper to religious leader to town gossip. They will study the day-to-day lives of "ordinary" women, as described in such primary documents as diaries, court records, and kitchen inventories, as well as the lives of women like Anne Hutchinson whose impact reverberated throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony and beyond. Events such as the Salem Witch Trials and the American Revolution will be studied from a woman's perspective.

Because women's history is still a growing field, it requires new and sophisticated research techniques. Students will have the opportunity to work with a variety of primary sources, as well as to study how some of the leaders in the field have been able to piece together the untold stories of these early pioneers.

From the CTY Course Catalog (2018):

“Let your Dress, your Conversation and the whole Business of your life be to please your husband and make him happy.” This advice, provided by Mrs. David Simmons, was typical of what educated young women of European ancestry in colonial America encountered, and reflects how many women were trained to live their lives. In contrast, some native women lived within matrilineal societies where they had considerable power; many non-indigenous women also found ways to assert their autonomy. European colonial leaders often resisted these practices by negotiating only with men in tribal societies and disenfranchising women in colonial settlements, eroding female leadership.

In this class, students begin with an overview of gender history, with close attention paid to the development of patriarchy. From there, they examine the roles women played in colonial life, from wife and mother to religious leader, farmer, business owner, midwife, indentured servant, and slave. In addition to studying the day-to-day lives of “ordinary” women through such primary documents as diaries, school and court records, and kitchen inventories, students explore the lives of women like Phillis Wheatley, Anne Hutchinson, and Mary Musgrove. Students examine events such as the Salem Witch Trials, the subjugation of native peoples, and the American Revolution from women’s perspectives.