When the Mayflower landed in 1620, it arrived in the territory of the Wampanoag Nation. Almost everything about the two cultures was completely different, especially the roles of women. "1620: Beyond Thanksgiving" is produced by NBC News Learn in partnership with NBC 10 Boston/NECN.
Two Different Worlds- Women in 1620
MORGAN RADFORD, reporting:
When the Mayflower landed in Cape Cod in 1620, it arrived in the territory of the Wampanoag Nation. Almost everything about these two cultures is completely different, especially the roles and responsibilities of its women.
VICKI OMAN (Plimoth Plantation): Turkey is about the best fowl we have here.
My name is Vicki Oman and I work at Plimoth Plantation.
OMAN AND MAN SINGING: ‘Tis him that made us and not we.
OMAN: Women were responsible for their homes, and that meant the garden and the home. So, they would grow food and herbs and they would cook and take care of their family and their homes, but they had additional responsibilities that they never would have had in England. They went out to the fields and worked in the fields. And in England, that was just a man's job, but here in Plymouth it was so important to grow corn that even women were going out in the fields to grow corn. So, women had a lot of work to do, a lot more than they had in England. According to scripture, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Many women in Plymouth Colony knew how to read. A woman could read the Bible with her family. She could also sing psalms with her family and prayer was a part of life all day. In the English colony, men were the heads of the house. Men voted. Men held office. Women never held office. Women were supposed to be subject to their husbands, but their husbands were supposed to be kind to them and listen to them. So, in an ideal marriage, a woman had some influence over her husband, but it was very different than in the Wampanoag culture where women had quite a lot of power. A woman in New England had a very different experience if she was Wampanoag than she had if she was a Pilgrim.
KERRI HELME (Plimoth Plantation/Mashpee Wampanoag): My name is Kerri Helme. I'm the cultural programs and guest experience manager here at Plimoth Plantation, and I am an enrolled member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal nation from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. That's how we do designs. The role of women in Wampanoag life is extremely important. For one, we're matriarchal and matrilocal. So, when a man and a woman get married the man moves into the woman's community. When children are born, they're born into their mother's clan, not their father's clan. Women own the homes and grandmothers are head of household. Women could be pawas, which is what we call our medicine people. Women could be songsquwa, which is a female chief. But no matter the gender of the leader of the community, the very highest authority in every Wampanoag community was a counsel that was comprised of the clan mothers. Clan mothers are like the top elected grandmothers from each family clan. They can overrule what the leader of the community says.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The squash? I don't know I haven't tended to it.
K. HELME: Daily expectations for Wampanoag women in the 17th century were basically work that had to do more with giving life or sustaining life. So, pottery, gardening, tanning hides, making clothes, food, gathering. But gender roles were not set in stone here either. You had to know how to do the work of both genders.
RADFORD: While women's roles have changed a lot in the 400 years since the Mayflower landed, for modern Wampanoag women, many traditions and their roles are still very similar.
K. HELME: I'm a weaver, a potter. I do different types of embroidery. I try to teach as many of the young Wampanoag women and boys who want to learn how to do these things.
ALANA HELME: I was learning how weave a round bottom bag, because I can only do envelope bags right now. It looks way more tight and put together.
K. HELME: I feel like sometimes when I'm working with clay or spinning milkweed to weave a basket, I feel a direct connection with the women that came before me, doing these things the exact same way for thousands of years.
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