The Women of America in the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods
People in some cultures refer to the nation as the ‘motherland,’ and the earth as the great ‘mother’ who nurtures life. In Western civilization, this has often not been the case as patriarchy has dominated and shaped society to such an extent that women’s role and their social significance were relegated to the wayside. The same appears to apply to women in America, particularly during the colonial and revolutionary periods, where women’s role was largely confined to the home, the bearing and raising of children and managing of the household, as illustrated by Franklin’s depiction of his mother as a ‘discreet and virtuous woman’ in his “Autobiography” (834), typical of how women were expected to behave by society’s standards and existing norms.
In Galle’s illustration, the naked female figure appears to represent the rich unspoiled lands of newly discovered America while Europe descends upon its shores, bent on colonizing and bringing civilization to the ‘savages.’ From the patriarchal white European perspective, the New World is depicted as a hapless female in need of rescue through male European cultivation. This is in stark contrast to the view prevalent in pre-modern societies where women were highly regarded, even feared, as life-giving deities, goddesses and priestesses. In John White’s illustrations of North Carolina Indian women, the role of the female is exalted as that of the nurturing mother. In a similar vein, the female character in “Wohpe and the Gift of the Pipe” (Walker 49-51) is strong and powerful in a uniquely feminine way.
Her strength lies not only with her brawns – ‘she had destroyed him and picked his bones bare’ (Walker 49) – but more importantly in the resoluteness of spirit capable of loving tenderness and service to her people, for she was also at the hearth of every home, the sacred guardian of the entire tribe. Thus it would seem fitting that Wohpe, the ‘Beautiful Woman brought the pipe to the Lakotas’ (Walker 51), the central integrating element in Lakota ritual life.
Walker, James R. “Wohpe and the Gift of the Pipe (Lakota)”
Franklin. “The Autobiography”
Lauter et al. “Heath Anthology of American Literature, Vol A.”