We are adding inquiry-based lessons every week and constantly seeking those that are already out there by others. If you have one to contribute, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquiries are provided in chronological order. Click here for How to Teach with Remedial Herstory Lessons.
Early American History: Cultural Encounters
Is there a single Native American women's story?
In this inquiry, students will examine the lives of several native women who lives are known and stories published. Students will consider the similarities and differences in their stories and respond to the compelling question. This lesson would pair well with any number of lessons on native women from others below.
How was menstruation treated in early America? Is menstruation something to hide?
In a time before manufactured sanitary products and mainstream advertising, how did women treat menstruation? How did society treat it? Students will examine evidence and evaluate whether women were well treated.
How important was Weetamoo to the Wampanoag resistance?
The English war with Metacomet, often called "King Philip's War" to mock him, was the most destructive war in US History, taking the lives of 5% of the New England population. Often neglected in this history, as everywhere else, are the women who were involved, most notably, Weetamoo a Wampanoag native who risked everything, even her marriage, to back Metacomet. Why was she excluded? We have an inquiry about her and lots of primary sources and articles on her below.
Lesson Plans from Others
- First Encounters:
- Gilder Lehrman: The conclusion that encounters between European settlers and Native Americans changed the lives of both groups has been central to many historical accounts of colonial history. While the arguments made are convincing, the discussions do not directly address the lives of women. It is possible that this omission is a result of a paucity of sources. Regardless of the problems with sources, the question may still be asked: Does this assumption hold up when we look at the encounter of women of both cultures? If not, why not? Before we can consider questions such as these, we need to look at the available primary sources for seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century women and gather as much useful information as we can. Because there is not a wealth of primary sources available on the Internet on these women, we need to read what we do have carefully and learn as much as we can. Hopefully, this will enable us to analyze and write this history. In this lesson, students will use primary and secondary sources to research and understand the lives of women (both Native American and European) in North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
- NY Historical Society: Women were an integral part of the daily life and success of New Netherland. They served as translators between the Dutch government and the local Native tribes, and acted as liaisons during negotiations with enemy forces. Women were at the center of the colony’s struggle to define the terms of slavery and freedom for the black colonials who lived in the territory. Dutch women actively participated in the bustling trade in the colony, while Native women manipulated imperial power structures to ensure their own survival. And all women in New Netherland contributed to the survival of the colony while still carrying out the responsibilities of home and child care.
- NY Historical Society: The traditional role of women in English society was one of subordination or second-class status. Women were expected to answer to their fathers, their husbands, and their religious and political leaders. The English common law practice of coverture made it so married women did not legally or economically exist, so they could not be free. But women were hard at work affecting the colonies in many ways, from enslaved women bringing agricultural knowledge that made colonies flourish to housewives inventing new ways to perform basic tasks. Women took part in the armed resistance to European invasion, and challenged the gender norms they were forced to live under. The power of women was well recognized by English colonial governments, who made laws to govern their reproduction, tried them for heresy and witchcraft, and severely punished their crimes, even when the women themselves were not at fault. The very first published poet of the English colonies was a woman. Even though the odds were against them, the women of the early English colonies were important to the development of the New World.
- NY Historical Society: King Philip’s War proved disastrous for Weetamoo and her people. After a strong start, vicious English counterattacks wore away at the tribal alliance. Wampanoag society was destroyed. At least 750 Wampanoag were killed during the war, and all the Wampanoag who were captured were sold into slavery. Weetamoo drowned while crossing a river on her way to battle. Her body was found by English soldiers on August 3, 1676. She was so feared that the soldiers mounted her head on a pole outside an English settlement as proof that she had been defeated. The sight of her head sent captive Native warriors into a frenzy of grief, proof of the love she inspired in her people. Her endeavors may have failed, but her life story stands as a testament to the ways women in Native communities fought back against the aggression of European settlers.
- Stanford History Education Group: Examining Passenger Lists: What can passenger lists from ships arriving in North American colonies tell us about those who immigrated? And what can those characteristics tell us about life in the colonies themselves? In this lesson, students critically examine the passenger lists of ships headed to New England and Virginia to better understand English colonial life in the 1630s.
- Stanford History Education Group: Pocahontas: Thanks to the Disney film, most students know the legend of Pocahontas. But is the story told in the 1995 movie accurate? In this lesson, students use evidence to explore whether Pocahontas actually saved John Smith’s life and practice the ability to source, corroborate, and contextualize historical documents.
- Gilder Lehrman: The early seventeenth century was punctuated by a series of small wars between Native Americans and colonists. Many colonists were captured and taken prisoner, but two women, whose ordeals were published as books, stand out. Mary Rowlandson wrote an account of her 1675 capture and escape, The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, in which she described her captivity and treatment by the Native Americans during King Phillip’s War. Hannah Dustin was captured in 1675, during King William’s War, and fought her way to freedom. Her story was written by Cotton Mather in Magnalia Christi Americana. The stories of these two women were read widely both in America and in England.
- Anne Hutchinson:
- National History Day: Why was Anne Marbury Hutchinson expelled from Massachusetts? She was a Puritan immigrant to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England. Her family, including her husband and 11 children, left their home in 1634 in support of their minister, John Cotton, who had assumed a position in the Church of Boston. Upon arriving, Hutchinson quickly gained a reputation as a “a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man.” In the next three years, Hutchinson challenged two Puritan precepts. First, she was concerned with local ministers’ emphasis on a “covenant of works” opposed to a “covenant of grace” in their sermons. Secondly, she challenged the Puritan mores for women in attracting both men and women to her local religious gatherings in which she was critical of these ministers. By 1637, the Antinomian Controversy, sometimes referred to the Free Grace Controversy, erupted. Hutchinson was tried in civil and religious courts, banished from Boston, and excommunicated from the Puritan church. She relocated her family to Portsmouth (modern-day Rhode Island). In 1643, her family was massacred in an attack by the Siwanoy natives in New Netherland.
- National Women’s History Museum: Anne Hutchinson, in the 1630s, dared to demand that women have equal status in the Massachusetts Bay colony. This demand led to her leading mass meetings, then two court trials, banishment, and, finally her death. This lesson discusses Anne Hutchinson’s life and defying the misogyny of her times.
- Salem Witch Trials:
- Stanford History Education Group: Students are often captivated by the story of the Salem witch trials. But do they understand the deeper causes of the crisis? And do they see what the crisis reveals about life in Massachusetts at the end of the 17th century? In this lesson, students use four historical sources to build a more textured understanding of both the causes and historical context of these dramatic events.
Primary and Secondary Sources
- Mary Rowlandson was kidnapped by Wampanoags and Nipmucs during King Philips War, she provides one of the only primary accounts of Weetamoo, a sachem and sister-in-law of Metacom. You can find the primary account and description here.
- This scholarly article, Refiguring Women in Early American History, would be a great read for educators before teaching their early US history unit this year.
- This article, Ads to Attract Brides, by History is about the advertisements and first women who came to Virginia.
- This article, The Real Wives of Jamestown, by History Today is about the women who came as wives and slaves to live in the Virginia Colony.
- This article, The Indispensable Role of Women at Jamestown, by the NPS is about how women helped the colony survive.
- This article, and others linked on this page from Historical Jamestown, are about the true story of Pocahontas.
- This article, about Hannah Duston by the Smithsonian tells the story of her kidnapping by the Abenaki natives in the aftermath of King Philips War.
Film and Video