Woman As A Pioneer

By William Worthington Fowler in 1877

Colonial Women

Colonial Women, 1876, H. W. Pierce.

Every battle has its unnamed heroes. The common soldier enters the stormed fortress and, falling in the breach which his valor has made, sleeps in a nameless grave. The subaltern whose surname is scarcely heard beyond the roll-call on parade, bears the colors of his company where the fight is hottest. And the corporal who heads his file in the final charge, is forgotten in the “earthquake shout” of the victory which he has helped to win.

The victory may be due as much, or more, to the patriot courage of him who is content to do his duty in the rank and file, as to the dashing colonel who heads the regiment, or even to the general who plans the campaign: and yet unobserved, unknown, and unrewarded the former passes into oblivion while the leader’s name is on every tongue, and perhaps goes down in history as that of one who deserved well of his country.

Our comparison is a familiar one. There are other battles and armies besides those where thousands of disciplined men move over the ground to the sounds of the drum and fife. Life itself is a battle, and no grander army has ever been set in motion since the world began than that which for more than two centuries and a half has been moving across our continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, fighting its way through countless hardships and dangers, bearing the banner of civilization, and building a new republic in the wilderness.

In this army woman has been too often the unnamed heroine.

Let us not forget her now. Her patience, her courage, her fortitude, her tact, and her presence of mind in trying hours; these are the shining virtues which we have to record. Woman  “as a pioneer” standing beside her rougher, stronger companion — man; first on the voyage across a stormy ocean, from England to America; then at Plymouth, and Jamestown, and all the settlements first planted by Europeans on our Coast; then through the trackless wilderness, onward across the continent, till every river has been forded, and every chain of mountains has been scaled, the Peaceful Ocean has been reached, and fifty thousand cities, towns, and hamlets all over the land have been formed from those aggregations of household life where woman’s work has been wrought out to its fullness.

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Among all the characteristics of woman there is none more marked than the self-devotion which she displays in what she believes is a righteous cause, or where for her loved ones she sacrifices herself. In India we see her wrapped in flames and burned to ashes with the corpse of her husband. Under the Moslem her highest condition is a life-long incarceration. She patiently places her shoulders under the burden which the aboriginal lord of the American forest lays upon them. Calmly and in silence she submits to the onerous duties imposed upon her by social and religious laws. Throughout the whole heathen world she remained, in the words of an elegant French writer, “anonymous, indifferent to herself, and leaving no trace of her passage upon earth.”

The benign spirit of Christianity has lifted woman from the position she held under other religious systems and elevated her to a higher sphere. She is brought forward as a teacher; she displays a martyr’s courage in the presence of pestilence, or ascends the deck of the mission-ship to take her part in “perils among the heathen.” She endures the hardships and faces the dangers of colonial life with a new sense of her responsibility as a wife and mother. In all these capacities, whether teaching, ministering to the sick, or carrying the Gospel to the heathen, she shows the same self-devotion as in “the brave days of old;” it is this quality which peculiarly fits her to be the pioneer’s companion in the new world, and by her works in that capacity she must be judged.

If all true greatness should be estimated by the good it performs, it is peculiarly desirable that woman’s claims to distinction should thus be estimated and awarded. In America her presence has been acknowledged, and her aid faithfully rendered from the beginning. In the era of colonial life; in the cruel wars with the aborigines; in the struggle of the Revolution; in the western march of the army of exploration and settlement, a grateful people must now recognize her services.

There is a beautiful tradition, that the first foot which pressed the snow-clad rock of Plymouth was that of Mary Chilton, a fair young maiden, and that the last survivor of those heroic pioneers was Mary Allerton, who lived to see the planting of twelve out of the thirteen colonies, which formed the nucleus of these United States.

Mayflower approaching land

In the Mayflower, nineteen wives accompanied their husbands to a waste land and uninhabited, save by the wily and vengeful savage. On the un-floored hut, she who had been nurtured amid the rich carpets and curtains of the motherland, rocked her new-born babe, and complained not. She, who in the home of her youth had arranged the gorgeous shades of embroidery, or, perchance, had compounded the rich venison pasty, as her share in the housekeeping, now pounded the coarse Indian corn for her children’s bread, and bade them ask God’s blessing, ere they took their scanty portion. When the snows sifted through the miserable roof-tree upon her little ones, she gathered them closer to her bosom; she taught them the Bible, and the catechism, and the holy hymn, though the war-whoop of the Indian rang through the wild. Amid the untold hardships of colonial life she infused new strength into her husband by her firmness, and solaced his weary hours by her love. She was to him,  “—-an undergoing spirit, to bear up against whate’er ensued.”

The names of these nineteen pioneer-matrons should be engraved in letters of gold on the pillars of American history:

The Wives of the Pilgrims.

  • Mrs. Catharine Carver.
  • Mrs. Dorothy Bradford.
  • Mrs. Elizabeth Winslow
  • Mrs. Mary Brewster.
  • Mrs. Mary Allerton.
  •  Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins.
  • Mrs. Ann Tilley.
  • Mrs. —— Tilley.
  • Mrs. —— Tinker
  • Mrs. [Alice] Rigsdale.
  • Mrs. Rose Standish.
  • Mrs. [Mary] Martin.
  • Mrs. [Alice] Mullins.
  • Mrs. Susanna White
  • Mrs. [Sarah] Eaton.
  • Mrs. —— Chilton
  • Mrs. —— Fuller
  • Mrs. Helen Billington.
  • Mrs. Lucretia Brewster

Nor should the names of the daughters of these heroic women be forgotten, who, with their mothers and fathers shared the perils of that winter’s voyage, and bore, with their parents, the toils, and hardships, and changes of the infant colony.

The Daughters of the Pilgrim Mothers.

  • Elizabeth Carver
  • Remember Allerton
  • Mary Allerton
  • Sarah Allerton
  • Constance Hopkins
  • Mary Chilton
  • Priscilla Mullins