Puritan Patriarchal Construction of American Sexual Morality and Woman's Worth: A Daughter's Response
Date of Award
University Scholars Director
Dr. Christine Chaney
Puritan, Sexuality, Women, Apparel, Christianity, Morality
While modern conceptions of Puritanism regard it as an artifact of American history, whose woman-killing theologies are long buried and forgotten, the bible in my father’s closet and the recently leaked Supreme Court draft to overturn Roe. Vs. Wade would argue otherwise. Cotton Mather’s favorite book Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion outlined both the ideals and detriments of the Anglo-American female identity. In this text, white women were taught to absolve themselves of the “nakedness” in dress Puritan settlers associated Indigenous people with. A woman’s ability to align herself to the ideals of chastity determined her own and her family's reputation, and thus her marriageability and social and financial opportunities through respectability politics. At this time, women were especially vulnerable to being charged with crimes of fornication and concealment following sexual assault or rape. Concealment was the assumed infanticide following a woman hiding evidence of her own pregnancy. While fornication charges resulted in minor fines, a concealment charge could land a woman on the gallows. Thus while men could easily escape the consequences of rape and their sexual immorality, women were dually punished not only by suffering the assault itself, but the punishment recieved by damaged reputation but also in death. The theological practice of punishing women more harshly was rooted in their own theology from the book of Genesis when Eve suffers not only the punishment of immense pain through childbirth but of mortal subjugation to her partner Adam. While Cotton Mather believed it was the colonies daughters in their lewdness and sexual immorality that brought suffering upon the American colonies, his granddaughter, Hannah Mather Crocker, through her texts Observations on the Real Rights of Women and The Midnight Beau argues instead that young men and their proclivities to drunkenness and committing violence against women and their reputations is the true root of moral decay of the American consciousness.
Mather, Savannah, "Puritan Patriarchal Construction of American Sexual Morality and Woman's Worth: A Daughter's Response" (2022). Honors Projects. 159.
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