Judith Sargent Murray

Prominent Essayist and Advocate for Women’s Equality

Judith Sargent Murray was a poet and playwright, and the most prominent woman essayist of the eighteenth century. She was also among America’s earliest champions of financial independence and equal rights for women. She argued forcefully for improved female education and for women to be allowed a public voice.

Judith Sargent was born May 5, 1751 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to the wealthy merchant family of Winthrop and Judith Saunders Sargent. Contrary to Sargent family legend, Judith did not study alongside her brother Winthrop while he was tutored to enter Harvard. Although she considered herself as capable as her brother, her parents provided a typical education for a merchant-class daughter – reading, writing and training in the domestic skills of sewing and household management to prepare her for married life.

Judith never forgot the discrepancies between male and female education she had experienced. She believed that with quality education women’s accomplishments would equal those of men’s if parents raised their daughters to “reverence themselves,” as she put it in one of her essays. The Sargent family library was vast, which allowed her to read history, philosophy, geography, and literature.

Like most children in Gloucester, Judith was raised in First Parish Church whose Congregational ministers ruled religious and civic life. She learned that only a few people were predestined for heaven, while most would spend eternity in hell.

In 1769, Judith fulfilled the one role expected of her and married John Stevens, a well-to-do ship’s captain from a prominent Gloucester family who spent most of his time at sea. The young couple resided with John’s parents until they could build a house of their own, allowing Judith to live within a short distance of the Sargent and Saunders homes. The couple had no children.

In 1770, Judith’s father Winthrop Sargent read James Relly’s book, Union. Relly’s Universalism was characterized by its doctrine of universal salvation – that all of humankind could be saved, not just the elect. It was a radical departure from traditional doctrine, and Judith was among those who embraced Relly’s hopeful view of this world and the hereafter.

In 1774, when Winthrop Sargent learned that one of Relly’s proteges British Universalist preacher John Murray was lecturing in Boston, he invited him to visit Gloucester. On November 3, John Murray visited the Sargent family home where Judith met him for the first time. She knew right away that in Murray she had found a mentor, spiritual teacher and intellectual companion.

Judith was among the group of people of Gloucester, led by her father, who first embraced this liberal religious belief, and her father provided financial support for Murray’s work. While Murray moved to Gloucester shortly thereafter, he traveled frequently to other parts of New England. Judith asked Murray if he would like to correspond with her and he accepted.

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Theodosia Burr

Theodosia Burr

Wife of Vice President Aaron Burr

In 1763 Theodosia Bartow married James Marcus Prevost, a British Army officer with whom she had five children. They lived in Bergen County, New Jersey, in a home they named the Hermitage. In 1776 James Marcus was called back to active duty in the Revolutionary War, while Theodosia tried to keep their home from being confiscated by the American government. Meanwhile she began a relationship with a young American officer named Aaron Burr. After her husband’s death in 1781, 35-year-old Theodosia Prevost, with five children, married 25-year-old Aaron Burr.

Childhood and Early Years
Theodosious Bartow died in a carriage accident in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, in 1746 at age 34, while his wife Ann was pregnant with their only child, Theodosia Bartow. For five years Ann raised Theodosia as a single parent, apparently partially in Shrewsbury and partially in New York City where several of her sisters and brothers were living.

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Abigail Adams

First Lady and Wife of Founding Father John Adams

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was the wife of President John Adams, the mother of President John Quincy Adams, and the second First Lady of the United States. As the Second Continental Congress drafted and debated the Declaration of Independence, Abigail began to urge John in her letters that the creation of a new form of government was an opportunity to make the legal status of women equal to that of men. The text of those letters became some of the earliest known writings advocating women’s rights.

Young Abigail Adams

Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, at Weymouth, Massachusetts to the Reverend William and Elizabeth Smith. On her mother’s side, she was descended from the Quincys, a well-known political family in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and a cousin of Dorothy Hancock. The Smith home was busy and active – visitors came often and relatives lived nearby.

Abigail was a sickly child; throughout her youth, she suffered from one minor illness after another. Her parents feared that some disease or infection would cut her life short. She was fortunate to have a father who loved learning and gave her full access to his extensive library, and became one of the best-read women of her time. Abigail read widely in poetry, drama, history, theology and political theory. In this atmosphere she developed the values and moral fiber that would serve her as an adult

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Hannah Lee Corbin

Early Women’s Rights Advocate

Hannah Lee Corbin, Virginia’s earliest known proponent of voting rights for women was born on February 6, 1728, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Hannah was the oldest daughter of Hannah Ludwell Lee and Thomas Lee, a prominent member of the House of Burgesses and later acting governor of the colony. In 1717, Thomas Lee had purchased the land for Stratford Hall Plantation, and he had the brick Georgian Great House built during Hannah’s childhood years.

Thereafter, the Lee family lived in the elegant mansion on the Potomac River, where Hannah received an education far superior to that of most young women of her day, studying alongside her brothers in Stratford Hall’s small brick schoolhouse. Intellectually curious, Hannah read everything she could find in her father’s library on law, politics, history, literature, and religion.

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Cherokee Women’s Rights

Women’s Rights in Cherokee Society

Image: Loving Sun
Marianne Caroselli, Artist
(I know the Cherokee did not live in teepees; I just love this painting.)

In the early 18th century, the Cherokee existence was one marked by balance guided by oral tradition. Their belief in balance in all aspects of life didn’t leave room for a system of hierarchy that oppressed women. Men primarily assumed the roles of hunters, while women took responsibility for agriculture and gathering.

At the time of European contact, the Cherokee controlled a large area of what is now the southeastern United States. Of the southeastern Indian confederacies of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw), the Cherokee were one of the most populous and powerful, and were relatively isolated by their hilly and mountainous homeland.

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Mary Katherine Goddard

First Female Newspaper Publisher (1775)

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816) is famous for printing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the names of all the signers. Like her younger brother William, Mary Katherine was educated by her mother, Sarah Updike Goddard, who taught them Latin, French and the literary classics. Mary Katherine’s father, Dr. Giles Goddard, was postmaster of New London, Connecticut, and the family was living there when Dr. Goddard died in 1757, leaving a sizable estate.

William Goddard completed an apprenticeship in the printing trade, and when he came of age, the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where Sarah Goddard lent her son the money to begin a printing business – the first in that colony. Both mother and daughter also began their careers as printers there in 1762, when Mary Katherine was 24.

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Iroquois Women

Women in Iroquois History

Image: Jigonsaseh
Head Clan Mother of the Iroquois

The Iroquois were one of the most powerful Indian races, controlling land all the way down the eastern seaboard of North America and several hundred miles inland. A woman’s place in Iroquois culture was very different from that in European cultures. Iroquois women enjoyed social equality and respect that was not shared by colonial American women.

The Iroquois Confederacy was composed of five different tribes, who banded together shortly before European contact. The tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy and other Northern Iroquoian-speaking peoples, including the Huron, lived in the region including what is now New York State and the Great Lakes area.

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Margaret Brent

Women in Law: First Woman to Appear in Court

Image: Margaret Brent before the Maryland Assembly

Margaret Brent ranks among the most prominent women figures in early colonial history. Hailed as an early feminist who advanced the legal rights of women, Brent was the first woman in the American colonies to appear before a court of the Common Law to claim land in her own right or to pursue her own interests in court. She was also a significant founding settler in the early histories of the colonies of Maryland and Virginia.

Margaret Brent was born around 1601 in Gloucestershire, England, into a wealthy Catholic family, one of thirteen children. She was an early American feminist, a major colonial landowner and executor for the governor of Maryland at a time of crisis in the Colony’s affairs.

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Anne Hutchinson

Women in Religion: Early American Religious Leader

Image: Hutchinson On Trial

Puritan leaders called Anne Hutchinson and her supporters Antinomians—individuals opposed to the rule of law. Puritans saw her as a challenge to their male-dominated society. Tried for sedition, she was also exiled as a danger to the colony. She lived in Rhode Island for a time and then moved to New Amsterdam, where she was killed in 1643 during a conflict between settlers and Native Americans.

Anne Marbury was born in Alford England, in July 1591, the daughter of Francis Marbury, a deacon at Christ Church in Cambridge. Anne’s father believed that most of the ministers in the Church of England hadn’t received the proper training for their position, and he said so. He was promptly arrested and spent a year in jail for his subversive words of dissent. But he wasn’t deterred, and he was arrested several more times.

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Anne Bradstreet

First American Poet

Anne Bradstreet was the first American poet, and her first collection of poems was the first book written by a woman to be published in the United States. Her work serves as a testament to the struggles of a Puritan wife against the hardships of New England colonial life.

Image: Anne Bradstreet Stained Glass Window
St. Botolph’s Church in Boston, England

Anne Dudley was born in Northampton, England, in the year 1612, daughter of Thomas Dudley, an earl’s estate manager. Anne was unusually well educated for her time – tutored in history, several languages, and literature.

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