women’s frontier thesis BY heatherl 2667 The Female’s Side of The “Frontier Thesis” England, a small and familiar place for many, was a community with very strict rules and beliefs. The Church of England was the dominant power over the country, and not everyone was happy with this dictatorship. Once the land in America was founded, Puritans and other men searching for freedom gathered and sailed across the sea to the new land. America became a “melting pot” full of various traditions, cultures, and beliefs from England as well as new “American” ideas.
This process took time and involved adapting and hard work to civilize the land. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner discussed and wrote about the frontier and how it shaped American characteristics. He talked about the steps the Europeans had to take to transform the environment into one with reasonable laws and into one with more of a community rather than mere wilderness. “As successive terminal moraines result from successive glaciations, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it becomes a settled area the region still partakes of the frontier characteristics. Turner 1 53)”1 This quote talks about the frontier having characteristics from the old ountry, England, as well as new developed ones from America. Turner’s argument is based off the European men arriving in American and having to adapt to the Indian lifestyle which consisted of hunting and of living off the land. Later the Europeans introduced their own more civilized ideas to further the society and build up the area as a whole. Turner only talked about the male fgures shaping America and completely disregarded women and their roles in the community.
Although Turner’s “frontier thesis” involving males shaping America became a very prominent idea, Elizabeth Ashbridge and Mary Rowlandson, two women, wrote about their completely different experiences. Elizabeth Ashbridge and Mary Rowlandson both represent victims of slavery and viewed the frontier as a place of fear, confusion, and realization rather than of happiness, freedom, and hope like Turner. Elizabeth Ashbridge, a confident and independent woman, emigrated to the colonies as an indentured servant when she was nineteen.
She hoped to start a new life and to expand her knowledge of religion; she read a book about Quakers and became very intrigued. “l wanted to have gone to church but being a stranger and aving nobody to go along with me, was forced to Give it out. (Ashbridge 704)”2 The Quaker religion was frowned upon by many people in the community so she was scared to go for the first time. Ashbridge went to a meeting with the Family instead of attending church, and the whole time she regretted her decision, thinking it would be more beneficial to be at home reading the bible or doing something else more productive.
Her views clashed with the community, yet she continued to read the Quaker book and agree with their thoughts, becoming a more devout follower. Ashbridge’s decision to become Quaker was not an easy task and she was in a place f uncertainty and fear by the frontier. Mary Rowlandson on the other hand was not fearful of converting to a new religion but rather scared of the Indians who took her captive for three months. Rowlandson wrote a personal narratlve aoout ner captlvlty ana ner struggles throughout the months. In February the Indians burnt down her house and killed and captivated her family. l had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should chuse rather to be killed by them then taken alive but when it came to the tryal my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit, that I hose rather to go along with those ravenous Beasts, then that moment to end my dayes. (Rowlandson 469)”3 Rowlandson’s disgust toward the Indians made her loathe being hostage but she valued her life too much to die with her pride. The idea of the frontier being a place where traditions are being formed is not true for Rowlandson but rather the opposite.
Taken from her home and stripped from her dignity, she experienced uneasiness and fear about what was going to happen next. Continuing her research about Quakers, Ashbridge became more and more content with her decision of becoming a Quaker. Ashbridge’s husband, however, did ot support her decision and tried many things to make her change her mind including abuse. “In this Doleful State I had none to bewail my Doleful Condition; & Even in the Night when I could not Sleep under the painful Distress of mind, if my husband perceived me weeping he would revile me for it. Ashbridge 706)”4 Doubt crossed Ashbridge’s mind because her husband would not acknowledge her pain or help her through any hard times; he shunned her because he did not agree with her choices. Ashbridge chose her religion despite her husband’s strong opposition, leaving her without support during tough times. She had the freedom to practice anything she wanted but she doubted her decision because of the negative reactions. The invasion of the Rowlandson’s house came as a shock to Mary Rowlandson, and she could not understand why such evil things happened to her family.
Her husband, a loyal Reverand to God, practiced his religion faithfully and spread the word of God to others. “It was a strange and amazing dispensation that the Lord should so afflict his precious Servant, and Hand-maid: It was strange that he should so bear up the spirits of his Servant under such bereavements. and of his Hand-maid under such Captivity, travels, hardships as he did, and at length deliver and restore. (Rowlandson 465)”5 She did not understand why she was not killed when her children were wounded and suffered more than she did.
Rowlandson emphasizes her self-pity and how quickly her life changed from being great to miserable. She turns to the bible to find answers to clear up her confusion and doubt. With time Ashbridge became more comfortable about being a Quaker and ignored the abuse, verbal and physical, that she experienced. She believed her husband would eventually understand, and she would wait until that day came. “l Endeavoured to bear with Patience, believing the time would Come when he would see I was right. Ashbridge 710)”6 She stuck with her original instinct and overcame some tough obstacles by herself. Ashbridge realized how important being a Quaker was to her and made it a top priority; her experience was not as easy and fluid as it could have been but her end accomplishment was the same. After searching for answers in the bible and trying to understand why her family was tormented, Rowlandson accepted the events. “Before I knew what affliction meant, I was ready sometimes to wish for it. When I lived in prosperity, having the omTorts 0T tne world aoout me my Heart cneerTull… nom I preTerrea DeTore my self, under many tryals and affictions, in sickness, weakness, poverty, losses, crosses, and care of the world, I should be sometimes Jealous least.. scripture should come to mind. (Rowlandson 492)”7 The experiences Rowlandson suffered through are engrained in her mind forever, and she cannot forget the gruesome fighting. Despite all the negatives that came from the attack, there were a couple of positive realizations that occurred. Rowlandson understood the importance of being thankful for what she had and to not wish for harm or misery.
Being in captivity made her think, reflect about her life, and realize she was lucky to be alive more than anything. Rowlandson could have never predicted or prevented the Indian attack but she accepted what happened. The frontier was a symbol of agony rather than happiness for Rowlandson even after being released because it brought back memories of her captivity. The frontier referred to in the nineteenth century is the land the Europeans found and settled after getting off the boat. It serves as a symbol of freedom and new life for many Europeans including Frederick Jackson Turner.
His thesis about the frontier focuses on the male role defeating the Indians, obtaining plots of land, and forming new “American ways. ” Not every experience was similar though. Elizabeth Ashbridge and Mary Rowlandson both had different and more negative memories from the frontier. Ashbridge was taken captive by the Indians so she suffered at the frontier, and Rowlandson chased after her goal of becoming a Quaker with no support at the frontier making her experience more negative as well. Therefore, each of these “frontier thesis” vary, none more right than the others, and pertain to each person individually.