When I say I’m writing a book and start talking about my research on women’s history, people immediately start mentioning famous women. They want to talk about Clara Barton, Mother Theresa, Ella Fitzgerald, Harriet Tubman, or Amelia Earhart. These women were wonderful and we should be proud of them. They opened doors and leveled the playing field for us by accomplishing great things.
What about the unsung heroes --What about the women behind the scene, behind the man, behind the family, behind the community that do so much for others, should we not be honoring them? I am writing about the women who helped make it possible to settle Connecticut and for us to have a country today. You think that is too bold a statement? What if no women came here on the Mayflower and the Speedwell, and all the other ships that landed here in the 1600s? Would the Plymouth Colony have survived without women? It certainly wouldn’t have grown without their wombs to produce the children.
A Settlement of Men
Actually, there was one settlement that came after the Plymouth Colony and it was all men. Nathaniel Philbrick tells about it in Mayflower: A story of courage community and war. They were not family men and did not think about storing up food for the future. They lived for each day. Without women to garden, cook, make clothes, and everything else the women in the Plymouth Colony did, the men were lost on their own. They did not try to grow their own food, instead they stole from the Native Americans, which caused violence. In the end, they perished. Some starved to death, others were killed by or went to live with the natives. I think a strong case can be made that if they had women with them there would have been more organization, more community and maybe the colony would have survived.
Mayflower is a book every American should read. Philbrick’s research is extensive. During his research, Philbrick had access to diaries of William Bradford, John Winthrop, and others that gave him insights into the temper of the period. We are fortunate today that many of these diaries have been printed and digitalized for Internet access. Unfortunately, there are few seventeenth century diaries by women. They didn’t have the time. Although most could read because it was required by the church that she read and teach her children to read the Bible. They didn’t, however, know how to write, which is evidenced by the fact they made a mark instead of a signature on legal papers.
I have always thought we do not honor enough the behind-the-scene people, who help make things happen while others take credit. In the women’s magazine I published some years ago, we made it our mission to seek out unknown women and write about their everyday successes.
One of the reasons this project attracted me is how writers had totally ignored these women. Every time I looked at all the books written about the prominent men, I could not help but question how prominent they would have been if their wives had not performed as expected. The wives made their clothes befitting their positions, took care of their homes and children, and behaved according to the strict tenets of the community, making the men look good.