When asked to describe the lives of Puritan women, many have the tendency to compare them to Pilgrims and the lives they lived. Many describe them as oppressed, depressed, and discouraged, expected to live lives under strict rules and regulations of the government and the church. Yet, Puritan women’s lives were somewhat of the opposite. Yes, they were required to live according to the laws of the government and church, but they were also offered the concept of free agency. They were allowed to dress in bright colors and become full visible saints of the church community. The Puritans, unlike the Pilgrims, did not condemn adornment, such as stained glass nor music. However, Puritan women’s lives were very dissimilar to the lives of Puritan men. Laurel Ulrich in her book entitled Good Wives illustrates this argument clearly as she describes lives of typical women of the 17th and 18th centuries. Though there are several similarities between Puritan men and Puritan women, they could be considered as having completely different lifestyles.
In 1628, the council of New England granted a charter to the New England Company, comprised of a group of Puritan merchants. The charter authorized the company to settle and govern a specified area, which included the settlement of Salem.
These men were given the opportunity to depart England and form settlements in the New World, while women were forced to stay behind with their families, waiting for their husbands to grant them permission to come and settle with them in the New World. Women were not allowed to participate in governmental affairs, thus they were never granted any kind of charter nor were they consulted on decisions concerning pilgrimages to the New World. Though these kinds of affairs were completely closed to women, they would follow their husbands wherever they were led. John Winthrop’s wife, Margaret, is a prime example of this attitude, assuring him that she would follow wherever he went.
John Winthrop, before his emigration to the New World, practiced as a lawyer in London. Though his profession was seen as a “high-class errand boy,” the job offered him certain advantages. “He met and exchanged information with consequential people from all over England, brushed elbows with members of Parliament, and lived at the center of England, where he could watch the country being ruled.” Interaction with Parliament provided Winthrop with the knowledge necessary to ensure that the Massachusetts Bay Colony would be a “self-governing commonwealth”, guaranteeing the government the ability to enforce the laws of God.
A major distinction between the lives of Puritan men and women of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was that only men were able to hold ministerial and governmental positions. Men could be “fence-viewers, deacons, constables, captains, hog reeves, selectmen, clerks, magistrates, tithing-men, or sealers of leather. Women could be members of a gathered church.” Though becoming visible saints of the church was no small task, it had to be earned. Women could be admitted into the Table of the Lord regardless of the status in the community, economic position, or religious inclinations of their spouses. Women more frequently achieved church membership than males, but also at younger ages. Between 1711 and 1729, women became full members of the church an entire decade before men. Their early conversion could produce some evidence that women may have had an influence upon their husbands in bringing them to Christ.
Both women and men, though, were required to present themselves before the minister and prove that they had received a witness they had been saved. They made a covenant that they were ready to adhere to the many rules and regulations of the church. In addition to their covenant, they were required to describe their inward spiritual experience and how they had reached their particular moment of conversion....
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