Anne Bradstreet

by Brooke from San Diego

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Someone following their passion to write world class poetry faces significant challenges. They must be well read, very knowledgeable of historical context, and have a wide interest for all kinds of literature. They also must have something to say to the world through their extraordinary poetry. Imaging doing this 400 years ago as a woman in Puritan New England, while raising eight children. Born in 1612, and growing up in Northampton, England, Anne Bradstreet had no idea she would become a world class poet. Bradstreet's father, Thomas Duley worked as steward for the Earl of Lincoln and her family lived at his estate. This arrangement combined with her interest in literature and her father's encouragement gave Bradstreet the opportunity and access to an education uncommon for young girls in her time. At 16, she married Simon Bradstreet and two years later her life changed forever. Her family worshiped as Puritans, and in 1629 her father helped organize a group of Puritans who decided to escape the religious intolerance in England and sail to New England. She was with the Massachusetts Bay Colony led by John Winthrop as they traveled for three months sailing across the ocean on the ship, Arbella. A hero must possess courage and perseverance to overcome the challenges and setbacks facing them as they pursue their passion. Anne Bradstreet is considered a hero because she had courage, perseverance, and is an inspiration to anyone who wants to pursue their talent despite unjust societal boundaries.

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Anne Bradstreet learned she wasn't allowed to do certain things because she was a woman. Societal expectations for women were very different 400 years ago. This had a huge impact on women like Bradstreet, who was an aspiring writer. Her father was one of the primary organizers of the group that set out for British North American colonies. But nobody knew how difficult it would be to cross the ocean, and how difficult the conditions would be during the first winter in the new land. According to Jeannine Hensley in the forward of The Works of Anne Bradstreet,  "1630: the expected sea-voyage with its alternations of danger and boredom, three months of close quarters and raw nerves, sickness and hysteria..." (Bradstreet, and Hensley). It took a lot of courage for Anne Bradstreet to sail across the ocean to reach America. The three months that she was at sea were long and hard for her. She knew the journey was going to be difficult, but she kept going and never gave up. Charlotte Gordon, author of  Mistress Bradstreet: the Untold Life of America's First Poet, commented on the courage needed to not only make the voyage, but to also commit to the destination. "...few Englishmen and even fewer women had braved this terrible journey to Massachusetts. For the weary passengers on board the Arbella, the greatest challenge they had to stare down was not starvation, storms, plague, whales, or even Indians. Instead it was the astonishing mystery they faced: Where were they going?" (Gordon). Anne Bradstreet traveled to America not knowing what it was going to be like or what the conditions were for the people who were there at the time.  It took courage to travel to the new land, adapting to a new harsh environment. This is one example of the acts of courage Bradstreet demonstrated. Throughout her life, she was faced with many challenges in which she had to have courage to stand up for herself and make a difference in society.



Bradstreet developed her talent for writing in spite of the Puritan societal pressure that had strict expectations for a woman's role, which didn't include publishing poetry. Her poetry included references to her battle with society boundaries that would go against her passion for writing. This is shown in one of Anne Bradstreet's poems titled, The Prologue, where she states, "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." (Bradstreet, Anne, and Jeannine Hensley). She bravely challenges the societal boundaries imposed on women in her time to proclaim her passion as a poet. This direct challenge shows how a woman's place was defined, occurring 400 years before the feminist movement in America. She showed strong perseverance in the face of opposition by going through with her writing even though it was against social norms. According to The Works of Anne Bradstreet, Hensley further states how Bradstreet left a legacy of heroism and inspired others by saying, "Anne Bradstreet happened to be one of the first American women, inhabiting a time and place in which heroism was a necessity of life, and men and women were fighting for survival both as individuals and as a community." (Bradstreet and Hensley). Day to day living in the mid 1600's in New England was an act of survival and the demanding environment made it hard to get through everyday life. Anne Bradstreet not only survived but raised eight children while never giving up on her passion for poetry. Being the first American poet to publish significant work, male or female, she was faced with multiple challenges because of societal boundaries imposed on women. She persevered through these objections of her work, because she was a woman, and proved society wrong. She left an impact on many people as she had hoped to help change standards that are unfortunately relevant today.

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Anne Bradstreet challenged the thinking of her day 400 years ago through her published poetry.  Her work continues to challenge our modern thinking that still needs to continue to evolve in respect for women. Sadly, there are people not fully respecting women's ability to contribute to the intellectual and artistic body of work in the world. Through her courage and perseverance, she inspired many young writers to challenge themselves to follow their passion for poetry. I am personally inspired by Anne Bradstreet on another level because she is my grandmother.  She is my ninth great grandmother as my genealogical records reveal.  Her poetry is filled with references to her family and grandchildren.  As she raised her family in the wilderness of Massachusetts in the 1600's, she no doubt thought of what her descendant's life may be like in the future, and how conditions for women with a passion for literature would be improved. As her descendant, I think she would be shocked and disappointed our society has not made more progress 400 years after she published her inspiring poetry. For Anne Bradstreet to be recognized as the first American poet, now and forever, is truly poetic justice.

Works Cited

Bradstreet, Anne, and Jeannine Hensley. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of         Harvard University Press, 2010.

Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet: the Untold Life of America's First Poet. New York, Little, Brown and Co., 2005.


Page created on 5/17/2017 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 9/24/2018 8:59:18 PM

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Related Links

Poetry Foundation - Anne Bradstreet was an aspiring writer
Poets - Anne Bradstreet had an inspiring story
Poem Hunter - Anne Bradstreet was the first American Poet