History/GWS 249 Reading Guide

Early Voices

  • Mary Beth Norton, “Evolution of White Women’s Experience in Early America,” American Historical Review 89.3 (June 1984): 593-619.  (JSTOR)


  • Anne Bradstreet (c.1612-1672), Selected poems. Representative Poetry On-line, published by the Department of English, University of Toronto (2003): 1. The Author to her Book; 4. A Dlalogue between Old England and New; 7. In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth; 8. In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659; 9. Prologue; 10. To my Dear and Loving Husband; 11. Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 18th, 1666.  Read the short biography of Anne Bradstreet on the home page.


Norton’s analysis of the historiography (written between the early 1970s and the early 1980s) of Anglo-American women in the colonial period challenges the early twentieth-century assumption that the colonial period was a “golden age” for women which was followed by a loss of status and function for women during the nineteenth century.  Focus your reading on how she describes and characterizes the evolution of Anglo-American women’s experience during the colonial era and the comparisons and contrasts she draws between English women and women in the different regions along the Atlantic seaboard.

In particular, consider the experiences of New England women within this comparative context (of both era and region). We will use that context to analyze the voices of two New England women writers this week.

For the texts for this week, consider:

  • What do these women accept or assume about their lives?
  • What does being a woman mean to them?  Do they articulate a comparison or contrast with men?  Do they articulate compromises that they made (did they see these as compromises?  What kind of control didi they have over their lives?  How do they view the extent and/or the limits of that control? 

Note:  Anne Bradstreet's collection of Poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts (1650), was the first book written by a woman to be published in the colonies.  However, it was published by her brother in law without her permission.

  • In what ways does Anne Bradstreet’s perspective resemble that of the first generation of women in New England?
  • What topics and themes did Bradstreet address in her poetry?  How did she approach these?  How did both her subjects and her method vary, depending on the audience (always immediate, but sometimes more specific than others) to whom she wrote?