Women in History: Anne Bradstreet

Though Anne Bradstreet is known as the first woman to have had a book published in the United States, it’s most likely there were others before her, but none recognized as written by women.

English -born Anne was the daughter of Thomas Dudley, steward to the earl of Lincoln, and she grew up in the cultured surroundings of Tattershall Castle.  Though theirs was a strictly religious household, her father, a Nonconformist, educated her himself, as well as having her tutored in history, several languages and literature–highly unusual for a female.  More fortunate than other girls, Anne had access to the castle library.  Anne married when she was sixteen.  Yikes!  We can hardly conceive of it, but it was common practice.  Simon Bradstreet’s father had been a Puritan minister, and Simon remained in the care of the Dudleys after his father’s death.

Two years later in 1630, the entire family made the arduous journey to New England in hopes of setting up plantation colonies.  With a husband and father of status in the new colonies, Anne held a visible position of status.  What with climate, lack of food and primitive conditions, life was far more difficult than in jolly old England.  A second bout of smallpox left Anne with paralyzed joints, though she raised eight children and ran a household.  Simon often traveled to other colonies, leaving her to read, educate her children, and write poetry.

Anne’s brother-in-law, John Woodbridge, secretly copied her work and took it to England where he had “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts” published.  It was a tribute to her childhood and what she’d left behind.  Her mature work was never published until after her death.

Cultural bias toward women was common in her time–a woman’s place was in the home.  Period.  Women were intellectual inferiors.  Critics thought Anne stole her ideas from men, and her writing was criticized because of her gender. The public had a harsh reaction to her role as a female writer. When the book was released, the idea that she was a virtuous women had to be stressed. Her brother-in-law even wrote: “By a Gentle Women in Those Parts” on the title page to assure readers that Anne didn’t neglect her duties as a Puritan woman in order to write.  He saw the need to clarify that she found time for her poetry by sacrificing sleep and using what little leisure time she had.  I’m probably not the only wife/mother/author who can identify with that! We can see the anger that Bradstreet felt toward criticism in the following lines:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue 
Who says my hand a needle better fits; 
A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance;
They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.


There were other women writers during the early years in the colonies, those who wrote poems and essays that have been preserved as part of American culture, but Anne is known as the first American female poet.  It’s likely that other women’s work was published anonymously or with a male pseudonym.  It’s estimated that one third of all the American novels written up to 1820 were by women authors.

It’s interesting to realize that Anne wrote in a time and a culture when a woman seeking knowledge was considered against God’s will.  Her writing reveals her faith, her devotion to God, and to her husband and family, but it also shows that she was a freethinker and probably one of the first feminists.  Recurring themes in her poems were love for her husband and pleas with God to watch over her children and husband. Anne developed tuberculosis and died at the age of sixty.

In looking for paintings or drawings of Anne, these two recurred.  One is actually labeled as a painting of Anne Bradstreet, the other, which is often used with her biography is a Rembrandt, titled, “A Woman With A Pink.”  I couldn’t find information to substantiate that this was indeed a portrait of Anne Bradstreet, though both she and the famous painter were alive during this time period.  It’s certainly possible.  If anyone knows, I’d love to hear.

We may have come a long way, baby, but women’s writing still gets less respect than that of our male counterparts.  We are the relationship storytellers who keep love and romance alive, and it’s what makes the world go ‘round.  Though our genre holds the biggest piece of the publishing pie, many still turn up their nose at fiction written by women for women.  Only a few years ago, women suspense writers wrote under male pseudonyms to be published.  At least we’re reviewed on the merit of our work, and not because we’re women!

Hats off to Anne Bradstreet, a forward thinking woman who paved the way for women writers!  If Anne were here today, what would you like to ask her?


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18 thoughts on “Women in History: Anne Bradstreet”

  1. Good morning! It’s 6:30 am and temps will climb to 110 degrees here in So CAL. I’m the first one to say what a fascinating post this is, Cheryl!
    I never knew about Ann Bradstreet and how frustrating it must have been for her to live in those times and be considered a rebel.
    My question to her would be, “How did you deal with the bias and scorn you received?”

  2. I had to study two of her poems for American Literature when I was in high school and it’s very cool to learn even more about her today. Thank you for sharing more about her life than I knew.

    If I could ask her a question, I think it would be for her to describe what writing meant to her. Would she describe it the way most of us do? As if it were a part of her being and she felt she just “had” to write. Was it a hobby? An outlet for the stress of daily routine life? Or was it much more than that?

  3. My hat’s off to Anne, and to all who forge the way, whether we know it or not.

    Cheryl, you spoke of women who, even today, have to write under a male name to be considered credible. Ah, it’s a shame. I wonder how many “ethnic” authors have felt they needed to publish under a WASP name.

    And let’s not forget those male souls who write excellent romances… under a female pen name. I believe they’re still laboring under the generalization that ‘only women’ could write this ‘fluff’. 🙁 Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like those early arguments about cultural bias and intellectual inferiors, doesn’t it? So I’m takin’ my hat off again to these fellows. 🙂

  4. Since her husband was often away, and Anne was left to care for her children and run the household, I imagine she wrote as an outlet. She was well-educated, but where could she share her thoughts and beliefs? Certainly not with the other women in the colony. Probably only with her father and husband–and I’m sure she taught her own daughters some forward thinking. But that frustration needed an outlet, and what a method she chose for releasing it.

    And it’s awesome to think her words are still alive and being STUDIED today! I wonder what she would think of that?

  5. Fascinating post, Cheryl. Another famous female poet of the time comes to mind, although she wrote not in English but in Spanish. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695) lived in Mexico. A beautiful young noblewoman, she became a nun because it was the only way for her to pursue her studies and her writing. Many of her poems have a strong feminist slant and she was a strong advocate of women’s rights.
    We have it so much easier, but I agree with you, Cheryl, that we romance writers don’t get the respect we deserve (and if anybody puts you down you can clobber them with the Rita you’re going to win!)

  6. What an interesting lady! I’ve never heard of her until today. I think I’d want to ask her how she had the time to indulge in writing. Yikes, with 8 children and keeping a home running I can’t imagine having an extra free minute for thought. And she had physical problems too from the smallpox. She must’ve been a tough woman. But I’m glad she and women like her paved the way for us.

    In some countries today it’s illegal for a woman to publish a book. If they do, it has to be under a male name. The world has come quite a ways, but still have miles to go.

    Excellent, intriguing subject, Cheryl!

  7. Wow, interesting article, Cheryl! I’d never heard of her, either. I’d ask her…what other activity or profession she might have liked to try that was out of bounds for women.


  8. Hi Cheryl, I too am learning something new today-Thank you! I would love to ask Anne about her life in the colonies and what it was like for women and their influence, if any, (via their spouses) on politics.

  9. Very interesting post! You wrote that women suspense writers wrote under male pseudonyms to be published. Is that why Nora Roberts has written her In Death series under the name J.D. Robb?

  10. Thanks to Anne for helping to lead the way into
    the world of literature for women!

    My question: We read today that your brother aided
    in getting you published, what were your husband’s
    feelings on being the husband of an author?

    Pat Cochran

  11. Isn’t it a shame that people still feel the need to put everyone in a category of their choosing. I will never understand the need to tell other people what they should do or not do or believe or not believe. I put it down to their own insecurities. Horray for those that rebel against the system 🙂

  12. Wonderful post. I learned something today. One thing I always keep in mind — I used to grade IQ scores and such and at the time when I scored them a correct answer for a male on certain questions got more points awarded than a female for the same correct answer. Never did a female ever score more than a male. Never. Nowadays it’s a little better — they just add 5 points to the male’s score.

    Now what does this tell me? Men aren;t necessarily smarter than women, though their genius scores are higher. A woman’s score would be higher too, if she cheated.

    But woe is me, this is a true story and is goes on even to this day. : ) I think the Native Americans had the right idea — they could not go to war unless the elder women of the village agreed. The elder women could oust a chief who was serving his own needs and not those of his people. Male or female we are all human and so much alike in many ways ( and fortunately very unlike in other ways ) that it;s ridiculous to have a prejudice one way or the other.

    Each have their own gifts which complement — perhaps native intended it so.

    Great post.

  13. Wonderfully informative post and ditto other comments. Have to ponder a thought-provoking question.
    My Mom was a feminist who promoted the ERA and other reforms thru politics & gave my cousin & I pamphlets on keeping our birth names when we married. An ancestor came over on the Mayflower and a 40something female ancestor was hung as a falsely accused witch in Salem MA; no wonder I enjoy this research, historical site SO much! I need to make the time to read every day, not just when CSJ reminds us!!

  14. Great post, Cheryl.
    Where did I read this, this morning, an article about … Danielle Steele I believe.
    Within the article was a POLL to take about whether you read Romance or not. If you click on the link the first choice was something like…
    Yes, I can’t survive without my bodice ripper novel.

    Ahem…respect???? I think not.
    Hello We here at P & P are extremely careful to only reveal what’s behind the bodice’s of MEN.

    And even those were taken off voluntarily. You KNOW they were. Nothing is ripped, well, unless you count abs. 🙂

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