Let History Speak for Itself
There are two main ways that Puritan women are misunderstood today, both in academia and in the church. The first is sort of a highly progressive, often non-Christian perspective that basically views these women as being trapped in the confines of their religion. If they had just pushed a little bit harder or further, they would have been able to break out of that and become their fully actualized selves.
One example of this is an article that argues that Anne Bradstreet actually wanted her house to burn down. She was happy that it happened because she didn't really want to be stuck in her role as a housewife anymore. Of course, the main problem with this is that it inserts the literary device of irony in a place where it doesn't exist. But even bigger than that is that it totally goes against everything else we see in the primary sources: what she said about her life experiences, her beliefs, all those sorts of things. And so overall, that's a historically disrespectful perspective to take because it basically views these women as needing to be saved from themselves, the things that they were saying about their own lives, and their own values.
In 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love, Jenny-Lyn de Klerk shows how the lives and writings of Agnes Beaumont, Lucy Hutchinson, Mary Rich, Anne Bradstreet, and Lady Brilliana Harley encourage the beauty of holy living and provide practical wisdom for the home and the church.
On the other hand, there is also a highly conservative, often Christian perspective that basically takes all of one's own modern conservative values and imposes or projects those onto these women, trying to make them sort of paragons of their modern ideas today.
One example of this is an author who writes about Anne Bradstreet worshiping God as masculine, or the masculine in God. And again, this is something that sort of disregards what we see in the primary sources. There are times when Bradstreet literally makes fun of men who think that they are smarter than women. Also, it sounds a little bit heretical, and Bradstreet was orthodox. So also this perspective is disrespectful because instead of appreciating these women in their own context, it tries to sort of make them in our own image—more like us or what we would expect them to be.
A good conclusion to all of this is to talk about the remedy to these. How do we avoid these or fix these? The good news is it's really easy. You just have to treat them as you would any other historical figure, or treat them as you would want to be treated. That doesn't mean you have to agree with or like what they say, but it does mean that you have to allow them to tell their own stories in their own words before you start to interpret them for yourself.
Jenny-Lyn de Klerk is the author of 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love.
With our course marked out for learning contentment, let’s think about how we might evaluate where we are in our own personal progress.
Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims.
The genius of the Puritans was that they knew how to build bridges between Scripture and the human heart.
We can’t really understand Puritanism at all—that movement so concerned with genuinely loving God in their communities, churches, and families,—without understanding the part played by Puritan women.