First Wave Feminism-Is it Still Relevant?

By Erica Bock, Archives and Rare Books Library Intern

Anne Bradstreet from The Poems of Mrs. Anne BradstreetMany of us remember being forced to read the poetry of Anne Bradstreet in high school or even college. And most of us read summaries online or in SparkNotes so we could still get an “A” without having to spend the time to decipher certain poetry. In high school, I was that person too.

However, when a college professor assigned us the week’s reading, I actually took the time to read Bradstreet’s works. Maybe it was because of lack of anything else to do. Or maybe I just really liked the professor’s approach to teaching. Regardless, I delved into the world of Bradstreet and I was both inspired and pleasantly surprised.

This free thinking first wave feminist started to inspire my life. And in particular, I took to her poem, “The Four Elements”. Bradstreet observed the world around her. And I began to realize what could happen if I too decided to become more aware of the world around me. Bradstreet reminded me that there is beauty in the natural chaos of life. And though everyone is different, we can use our differences to our advantage.

You see, Bradstreet’s thinking was not welcome for her time. A woman was not thought to be someone who valued knowledge and intellect. And though her feminism was subtle, it was impactful then, and it has the same ability to be just as impactful today.

In her poem, “Flesh and the Spirit”, she talks about the inner person being more important than their physical body. In other words, it’s on the inside what counts. She was not worried about looking a certain way or having all of the things that society deemed was popular or acceptable. And even when she caught herself longing to change things about herself to fit in, she remembered that her spirit was stronger than her flesh.

Therefore, give Bradstreet a try. Because, even after her death in 1672, this woman’s still work is relevant in 2019. If we were to allow ourselves to be inspired by first wave feminists such as Anne Bradstreet, how might our lives look a little bit different?


This post was originally published on the Archives and Rare Books Library’s Rare Book Occasional Blog.  The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet(1612-1672) together with her prose remains; with an introduction by Charles Eliot Norton is available in the Archives and Rare Books Library and you can see the catalog record in the Libraries online catalog.