8. Struna Recreational Experiences of American Women

8. Struna Recreational Experiences of American Women - ;~.~...

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, ;~ .. ~ Chapter 4 The Recreational Experiences of Early American Women Nancy L. Struna I cannot say that I think you very generous to the ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives . .. [but] we have it in our power not only to jree ourselves but to subdue our masters. ABIGAIL ADAMS to her husband John, Adams Family Correspondence Until the mid-1980s, women were all but invisible on the canvas of early American sport. There ap- peared to be little evidence to suggest that they competed in horse races and hunts, the signal events of the era, or in fistfighting matches and sport clubs. Of course, historians occasionally did discuss the gambling experiences of native American women, the fishing and sailing forays of white New Englanders, and the penchant for dancing among many women, including African- Americans. Still, such descriptions did little to alter the sense that historians had typically made of sport in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a man's domain, and women were little more than "good wives" or at mosi ornamented spectators who existed on the periphery. 1 How are we to reconcile this conclusion with an important fact about gender experiences in early America: that women were omnipresent? Even where there were no white women, as was the case in the early European plantations of J ames- town and New Amsterdam, their specter loomed large. Moreover, as ihe Euro-American and African-American female population increased 45
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46 Struna throughout the 18th century, its members affected every aspect of early American life, including work, religion, race relations, popular consump- tion, and even political ideology.' There is probably no way to reconcile histori- ans' treatment of early American sport with the demographic and social history of the period. Only a fresh start will do. Consequently, and with the advantage of recent scholarship on early American society anda broader body of historical sources, this chapter portrays women as active agents in the construction of early American recre- ations. 3 It also maintains that recreations were significant social practices in a complex and com- plicated scheme of life. This chapter draws on some of the many schemes of life that early American women expe- rienced. There were many women, and their expe- riences as "producers" and "consumers" ofrec- reations-rather than as mere participants and spectators--defy neat generalizations. They lived in times and places and under conditions that were as different from our own as day is from night. Their experiences even differed considerably from one generation to the next, from one region to another, from one race or rank to another. Thus we need to appreciate the historically specific life- styles and social contexts-the tasks and rhythms of labor, the rituals of community 'life, and the negotiations that underlay gender relations, among other things-in which colonial women's sporting practices were rooted.
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  • Fall '10
  • Salesa
  • Native Americans in the United States, Early American Women, Recreational Experiences of Early American Women

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