Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley: Pioneers for Women’s Rights Anne Bradstreet (1600’s) and Phyllis Wheatley (1700’s) wrote poetry in two different centuries. Their topics, themes and the risks these women took in their writings are groundbreaking in that they paved the way for women’s rights today. Both women are known as the first published poets of the new world. Bradstreet’s writings were first published in 1650 and her poetry included controversial subjects such as the relationship between a husband and wife, displays of affection, and women who have made their place in society as leaders.
These topics were not typical of women who were brought up a Puritans. In fact, the puritans did not approve of public displays of affection. They also believed that talking about intimate relationships between a man and his wife was sinful. When Anne Bradstreet wrote her “Prologue”, she knew she would face criticism for her writings. Her 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’ advance, They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance. She was aware that many people would disapprove of her writings, she was also very keen to the fact that she knew what women’s roles were in society, yet she wrote what she felt were important topics anyway. Phyllis Wheatley’s subjects were also questionable at the time of her writings. Wheatley’s first publications were in 1773. Wheatley, being a slave, wrote about the subjects of slavery, religion, and freedom. Society considered these subjects as controversial for women to speak about and Wheatley took a big risk each time she addressed the topics in her poetry.
In her poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, she speaks directly to the white Christians saying: “Remember Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refined, and join the angelic train. ” She is reminding them that black people have their place in heaven with God too, just as they, the white people have their place in heaven with God. The very fact that both women dared to write about taboo subjects in their time says a lot about the character of both of them. Their poetry shows that women are concerned with more than just household affairs.
They were women of intelligence. They were very brave in the fact that they opened conversations and thoughts regarding how women felt and how they reacted to worldly subjects. Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley both had very strong backgrounds in religion. Bradstreet was raised with Puritan beliefs while Wheatley was raised as a Christian. In each of their poems, religion is very prominent. When Bradstreet writes about how much she admires Queen Elizabeth, she does it wittingly, but she does not overstep her religious teachings that women should remain reserved.
Bradstreet uses a reference from the book of Genesis to describe how famous the queen was: “More infamy than fame she did procure. She built her glory but on Babel’s walls,” Phyllis Wheatley’s letter to the Honorable William of Dartmouth has a very religious tone. The language she uses resembles that of prayer in her poems. In her letter she says: “May heav’nly grace the sacred sanction give To all they works, and though forever live Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame, Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name, But to conduct to heav’ns refulgent fane. She is letting the Earl of Dartmouth know that she is praying for goodness to come to him in his newly appointed position. In Bradstreet’s poems, we can read that she sometimes is skeptical of her religion but we read no doubt of Wheatley’s beliefs. This is where they differ greatly. Bradstreet challenges the Puritan beliefs while Wheatley embraces the Christian religion. Bradstreet’s poems that include subjects like the relationship between she and her husband, and Wheatley’s writings about slavery, freedom and religion put them in risky positions.
Bradstreet risked the reputation of her husband as well as her family name because he was the governor of her community. Wheatley risked being punished for her writings because she was a slave. These risks did not stop either woman from speaking out against a world they felt was wrong because society dictated a women’s role, which was staying at home dealing with domestic things. Bradstreet and Wheatley use sarcasm and romantic tones in their poetry to convey their messages. They also used real life experiences to bring their point across to their audiences. In Bradstreet’s “The Poem” she writes: now say have women worth? Or have they none? Or had they some but with our Queen is’t gone? ” She challenges women here to consider whether women are of any value to society now that Queen Elizabeth has passed away. She also challenges the men: “nay masculines, you have thus taxed us long. But she, though dead will vindicate our wrong. ” She addresses the men and she is telling them to be careful, that every wrong they have done to women will be avenged. This is a very strong warning against men and a bold move for a woman to make. “Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,” Wheatley uses her story of being taken from her family as a young child to explain to William, Earl of Dartmouth where her “love of freedom sprung” She does this to interject emotion into her letter. Using emotion and experiences aids the poets in driving strong points across. This opens lines of communication in the readers and it evokes thought in those whom are the audiences of their poetry. If it were not for the bravery of these women as well as boldness of their wit, the movement of women’s rights may not have come into existence.
They were women who were beyond in years for their wisdom and bravery. They took risks for the good of all women today, even though they did not realize it at the time. “I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid in completing this work, nor have I presented someone else’s work as my own. ”
- Franklin, Gura, Krupat, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed. , W. W Norton & Company Ltd. , 2007
- “I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid in completing this work, nor have I presented someone else’s work as my own. ”