The Role of Gender and Religion During the American Colonial Period - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1229 Words
Date:  2023-02-11


The colonial era in America refers to the 16th and 17th centuries, a period leading to the American Revolutionary War. The American colonial period saw European nations arrive in American intending to obtain wealth and expand their influence over world affairs. During this time, the Spanish arrived as the first colony to explore and settle in the United States. The early settlements influenced and shaped the American community and aboriginal settlers. Religion played a significant role in shaping the aboriginal family institutions, changing the perception of gender roles. The following is a discussion on the role of gender and religion during the American colonial period, with a central focus on the impact of gender roles.

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In the initial settlement schemes of the colonialist, settlers experienced colonial literacy. The colonialists used a reading curriculum that borrowed from religion with Biblical syllabarium. Education systems used the hornbooks in the Dame schools (private schools for young children). The hornbooks were imported into the colonies to help educate the aboriginals. Women used the hornbooks as original texts to equip the home classrooms. Thus, they played a critical role in educating their children at home, helping them learn the first text.

The Native Americans had traditional societies before even the arrival of Columbus and other European societies. Native Americans lived in well-established gender roles with unique definition of the family institution. In the indigenous tribe like the Virginia Powhatan, men and women played different roles, however, they were treated the same as community members. Traditionally, women would farm, cloth, and cook alongside the help of their children. The Powhatan men used to hunt, go fishing and sail with canoes. In another tribe like the Virginia Algonquian, women and men were perceived as equals with opposite roles. The view on women was that they were givers of life (they gave birth) while the men were takers of life. The arrival of the Colonialists brought religion that changed gender roles affecting the traditional family institution.

English Puritan and Christianity

The different colonialists arrived in colonial America with different ambitions. Their various objectives influenced the natives with some offering education, while others were presenting religion. The English Puritans arrived in America and embarked on a mission to convert the natives to their believed version of Christianity. John Eliot led the Puritan mission in New England. Thus, upon their arrival, Elliot urged Native Americans to live in praying towns in the Massachusetts colony. The Puritans encouraged the natives to live in harmony as converted Christians, emphasizing the Bible centrality.

In history, women's perception has been that they represent the men's shadow. Their responsibility assumed a foundation in the home environment, thus were deprived of their rights in the public domain. The history of such responsibilities began before even the native colonial American era. The Native American women belonged to Congregationalists and the Anglican religion even before the arrival of the British Protestants in the American colonies. During that time, many women natives protested the new religions and even attempted to preserve their faiths. However, the dominance of the colonialists persuaded the native women to convert to Christianity.

Colonial American and Gender Roles

The arrival of the colonialist saw the emergence of a new culture of women in servitude. Women that arrived with boats from oversea lacked financial means to offset their bills. Thus, they were forced into years of servitude, after which they were free to marry. During the colonialist period, the social status of the citizens depended on affluence, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. Therefore, the social class was the main determining factor for securing opportunities for women. Even though women in colonial America had more rights than those in England, the Puritan society discriminated against them, setting strict rules. The strict nature of society rendered education valuable and only affordable to wealthy families. Thus, women assumed the role of being mothers at a tender age. Prejudice views limited women's ability to hold public offices and the association with influential public roles. Religion influenced women life emphasizing balance on mothering and submission to their husbands as to the idealistic wives. On the other hand, the men in the American colonial era worked in the farms while others traded as merchants, with some few serving in medical and law fields. In the 17th century, the scriptural traditions limited women's authority in the society. The religion in colonial America did not permit women to own property. Some of the religious teachings prohibited women from pursuing any form of education. The limits of binding for women were to teach only children at home.

Colonialist Transformation of Gender Roles

The early English colonies changed gender roles for the indigenous communities in colonial American society. English colonialists introduced a patriarchy system, where men were dominant household leaders with all the power. The gender roles of the colonialists were stricter compared to the native tribes. The men led in all the legal decisions, and they influence the determination of property and lineage. The patriarchy system also forced the man to the fields, farming their lands. Consequently, women's roles included working at home and were prohibited from owning land. The Early colonialist changed gender roles in colonial America, influencing the view between a man and a woman. The man in a colonial setting could own property, participating in the government, and obtain an education. Conversely, women in colonial America would maintain the house order, teach morals based on religion, submit to men, and bear children.

The Impact of Religion on Gender Roles in Colonial America

The colonialists spread religion to colonial America, something that developed with a transformation in gender roles. Religion changed the view on gender roles, redesigning the expectations of the society for a man and a woman. The Christian Bible played a crucial role in offering scriptures to oppress women. Even though Christianity oppressed women, religions in Northern colonies (Pennsylvania) granted women some form of freedom. The Quaker religion is an example of a faith institution, which permitted women to address religious gatherings.


The arrival of European nations in colonial America transformed the way of life for the natives. Colonialist explored America spreading religion, acquiring wealth, and dominant the native communities. Before their arrival, the natives had a traditional way of life, perception of gender roles, and defined family institutions. However, colonialists brought religion that set different standards and expectations of the household. Colonialists used religion to justify women's oppression, with the Puritans disregarding women and spiritual equals to men. Thus, the men were allowed to marry after the death of their women, unlike the women. Consequently, in the colonial American states, women faced oppression after the arrival of a colonialist who changed the view on gender roles.

Works Cited

Bible Communism: a Compilation from the Annual Reports and Other Publications of the Oneida Association and Its Branches: Presenting, in Commection with Their History, a Summary View of Their Religious and Social Theories. New York: AMS Press, 1973.

Brekus, Catherine A. The Religious History of American Women Reimagining the Past. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Griffith, R. Marie. American Religions: a Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Monaghan, E. Jennifer. Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005.

Monaghan, E. Jennifer. The Three Rs: Notes on the Acquisition of Literacy and Numeracy Skillsin Seventeenth-Century New England. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

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The Role of Gender and Religion During the American Colonial Period - Essay Sample. (2023, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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