Anne Bradstreet: A Woman Who Defied Gender Inequality in 17th Century Throuugh Poetry

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Anne Bradstreet dedicated herself by writing about whatever she wanted to show her personal thoughts, emotions and experiences.

This will be shown in relation to the way she was raised in a home that supports female literacy and how she rose with her poems through colonial Puritan society. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry defies the traditional role of women in the 17th century while still adhering to her Puritan beliefs.

On March 20th 1612, a young girl was born in Northampton, England. Her name was Anne Dudley Bradstreet.

Although Bradstreet did not receive a formal education, she was taught to value and appreciate female literacy according to the standards of the Elizabethan society she was born into. When she turned sixteen, she got married to Simon Bradstreet, a Cambridge University graduate. In 1630, Anne and her family immigrated to the New World: The United States of America.

It was a difficult three-month voyage where she witnessed several people dying from malnutrition, dehydration and disease. There was quite a change from the beautiful land she was raised in to the rough, cold and brutal life in the New World.

“As Anne tells her children in her memoirs ‘I found a new world and new manners at which my heart rose’. ”

For many months, the Bradstreets and Dudleys shared a house in Salem, Massachusetts. The conditions were tense and extremely discomforting. Her father, Thomas Dudley complained that there wasn’t enough furniture; there wasn’t a table on which to eat or work on. In the freezing winter, the two families were cramped into a room in which there was a fireplace to keep them warm.

The Bradstreet family soon moved to another state again; Cambridge, Massachusetts. Despite her infirmity, Bradstreet birthed eight children and achieved a good social standing. Sadly, as a teenager, Anne was diagnosed with smallpox which made her fall prey to illness as paralysis overtook her joints in the later years.

Anne Bradstreet and her family moved various times to ameliorate their livelihood through neighborhoods in Massachusetts; from Salem to Charlestown, then to Newtown (Cambridge), then to Ipswich, and finally to Andover.

In 17th century, men were viewed as powerful and a superior gender, therefore, a patriarchal role in the Euro-America Puritan society played upon women, and that role was considered a natural law which decreed by God.

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The power was given to men, they were meant to be the master of a household, to work and to provide, whereas women were looked at as the inferior gender, therefore they were taught to listen, take care of the household, prepare food and give birth to children.

Relationships, law and public opinions were affected and it created salient and dramatic gender roles for men and women, especially in America. Girls were taught –or forced- to be amenable to their fathers and their future husbands. 
A married woman becomes fundamentally, the property of her husband.

Rape and adultery became both a legal and a social issue for men and women. Legal and ideological barriers made convictions of crimes, especially rape, a difficult challenge to the alleged victims; there was a general belief that emotions governed women which led to the inability to regulate their sexuality, therefore they were blamed for their own rape. It was required by the law that a woman who seeks justice for her rape needed to be with witnesses who had witnessed the rape and heard the woman call for help.

Due to the busy life of her husband and the long periods of absence, Anne spent her lonely days reading and studying her father’s collection of books as well as she educated her children. She acquired knowledge of various subjects including medicine, history, science, the arts and religion. Anne was specifically fond of poetry. Although she wrote verses, she kept her work private, only to be seen by her family and a close circle of friends.

Anne’s poetry was based on her life experiences and they were filled with female dominance. There was an obvious contrast throughout her writing between the values and traditions of the Puritan society and her identity as a female.

Bradstreet embraced the fact that she lived as a female in a male-dominated society, but at the same time, questioned the views towards females and gender roles. Bradstreet writes, 'Let Greeks be Greeks, and woman what they are; Men have precedency and still excel, it is but vain unjustly to wage war; Men can do best, and women know it well.

Although Bradstreet’s tone may appear sincere, there is still a hint of humor and sarcasm between the verses. 
By appointing superiority to men, she's pretending to go along with the conventions of how women were expected to behave in her society, as well as letting the men who criticize her to feel less ‘threatened’.

In her poem “In Honour of the High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth”, Bradstreet praises Queen Elizabeth to the highest degree. She explains her accomplishments as a leader and how she’s an extremely successful female leader.
In a stanza she says,

“No memories, nor volumes can contain, /The nine Olymp’ades of her happy reign, /Who was so good, so just, so learn’d, so wise, /From all the Kings on earth she won the prize”

She states that Queen Elizabeth is better than all male rulers.

Bradstreet unfortunately died at a young age due to her prolonged illness with Tuberculosis on September 16th, 1672, aged 60.

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan woman who lived in the 17th century male-dominated society which made her work appear as contradictory and paradoxical, but in the end, she was who she was raised to be and who she wanted to be—a woman, a poet and a Puritan, which made her work appear complex yet intriguing.

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Anne Bradstreet: A Woman Who Defied Gender Inequality in 17th Century Throuugh Poetry. (2020, December 01). WritingBros. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from
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