"Quaker Women in the American Colonies"
During the colonial period, women were considered inferior to men and “nothing more than servants for their husbands.” During the eighteenth century, unmarried Quaker women were the first to vote, stand up in court, and evangelize; although Quaker women enjoyed rights that women today take for granted, they were most known for their religious radicalism. According to Rufus Jones, a professor at Harvard, the Quakers “felt, as their own testimony plainly shows, that they were not solitary adventurers, but that God was pushing them out to be the bearers of a new and mighty word of Life which was to remake the world, and that the whole group behind them was in some sense embodied in them.” Women like Margaret Fell and Mary Dyer contributed to the Quaker religion and bolstered their communities, even through great personal hardship. Margaret Fell was the wife of George Fox, the creator of the Society of Friends, and she held a position in the Quaker religion that rivaled all others. She interceded on behalf of her Quaker friends several times during her life, even going to prison for her beliefs. As a married Quaker, the rights she enjoyed should have been stripped and she should have reverted back to a more subservient role, but her husband allowed her to continue to be outspoken; she is often considered the first feminist. Although Anne Hutchinson was considered a radical but not a Quaker, Mary Dyer became a Quaker in her quest to find a more satisfying religion; she was banished several times from Massachusetts by Governors John Winthrop and John Endicott. While she may have become a martyr for the cause, her death was paramount to changing some of the anti-Quaker laws that had been enacted. Both of these women suffered greatly for their beliefs, either through personal hardship or loss of their life. These Quakers women were some of the most radical believers in the colonies, putting life and family at risk during a harsh and violent time.
While Margaret Fell never made it to the American colonies, her struggles to overcome persecution for being a Quaker were no less than the women in the colonies. Margaret Fell’s first marriage very clearly showed her devotion to religion and her willingness to harbor traveling ministers in her house. Margaret Fell became a Quaker after hearing a sermon by George Fox; her husband, although not a Friend, was sympathetic and allowed his house to become a meeting place for the Quakers. During the years between 1662 and 1669, there were several acts passed by Parliament to prevent the formation of churches outside of the Anglican Church. One of the acts was the Quaker Act of 1662, designed to force the Quakers to take an oath of allegiance; since none of the Quakers would take this oath, as Parliament well knew, they were put in prison. Surprisingly, after this act passed, Margaret Fell traveled to London to intercede on behalf of the Quakers. The other act passed by Parliament was the Conventicle Act of 1664; this act was designed to prevent more than five people from meeting outside of an approved English church setting. Margaret Fell and George Fox were arrested for refusing to take the oath; Margaret Fell spent six months is jail and then at her trial, she was sentenced to life in prison and forced to forfeit her property. She spent only four years in prison and during that time she wrote religious pamphlets; in one of the pamphlets, Margaret Fell insisted that through the readings of scripture, women were allowed to speak the word of Jesus because it was women who were the first to tell the world of Jesus’ return. Margaret Fell married George Fox in 1669 and was imprisoned once again under the Conventicle act and spent another year in jail. When George was imprisoned in 1673, Margaret Fell went to the king and procured George’s release in 1675. It was in 1689 that Parliament passed the Tolerable Act and repealed...
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