Women in Early America
Centuries of religious, philosophical and political Western European thought taught that women were inferior to men and not intelligent enough to vote. These beliefs kept white women from being able to vote in early America. Colonialism and slavery kept Indigenous and Black women out of the political and social system completely.
Setting the Stage
The pre-Independence period of the United States spans from 1492 to 1776. During this time, powerful European countries such as Britain, France, Portugal and Spain sought to expand their wealth and world influence by colonizing new lands, including what would become the United States.
At the same time, some religious groups, today referred to as “pilgrims,” left their home countries to establish new religious societies. The philosophies of these two groups of people set the stage for America’s founding: power and wealth, and religious freedom for Protestant Christians.
It is important to remember that while there were many groups seeking power or a home in the Americas at the time, the decision-making was done by European men. This had a major influence on European women in colonial America; leaving their homelands did not necessarily change their political standing upon arrival to America.
It’s also important to remember that while European colonial women experienced oppression because of their gender, they lived within a system of dominance over the people native to a land, in the U.S. the indigenous peoples are often referred to as American Indians or Native Americans — who were living on this land long before it was “discovered” — and over the African peoples forced into the system as slaves.
This complex experience with oppression and dominance is called (or intersectional theory) is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.
It is important to note that all of the United States, including Minnesota, was first inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, but American history is almost always told through a European settler perspective. This means that our history of voting rights is founded on European settlers taking lands and enforcing often violent power over numerous American Indian tribes who lived here centuries before colonization.
The land that is now Minnesota was not under U.S. control until the middle of the 19th century, but we find that the history of women in Minnesota is similar to the experiences of women in other parts of this land.