Women in the eighteenth century

The British colonists brought with them the gender roles they knew in Europe .  The man was the head of the household and regarded as superior to his wife, who was supposed to be obedient and submissive.   Colonial women were believed to be "virtuous" when they "knew their place" and didn't challenge either their husband at home or the wider the social order.   One reason colonists regarded Native American societies as "immoral" was that indigenous women seemed so independent and lacking in submission. 

The law inherited from England ("common law") regarded a man and his wife as one person.   A married woman could not sue or be sued, draft a will, buy or sell property or make a contract.  That was reserved for her "better half" – her husband.  Unmarried women and windows had more scope to engage in business and work in towns to support themselves and their families.

In spite of the social constraints women faced, and limitations on their education, several women openly questioned gender-based inequalities in the eighteenth century or emerged as religious leaders.  In addition to Judith Sargent Murray http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/whm2000/murray2.html and Abigail Adams, http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/abigailadams.html there was the pathbreaking Englishwoman, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the 1792 book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, who argued that women should be given equal status with men.  http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/wollstonecraft.html

The life of Phillis Wheatley demonstrated that it was not just white women who could become literary sensations.  Born in Senegal in 1753, she was sold into slavery and educated by her master in Boston .  In 1770 she published a book of poetry which became the first book to be published by an American of African descent.         http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blbio_phillis_wheatley.htm