Anne Bradstreet wasn’t just the first woman to be published in England’s North American colonies. She was the first Englishwoman to publish a book of poems and the first published American poet.
Her brother-in-law took her poems to England to be published in 1650 under the title, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. He claimed he did it without her knowledge, but he may have just wanted to protect her reputation.
Anne Bradstreet acted chagrined. She wrote a poem apologizing about her poetry. It began, “Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain.” But she probably didn’t mean it.
Who Was Anne Bradstreet?
She came to America in 1630 aboard the Arbella with her husband and her father, both of whom became governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
All eight of them lived to adulthood. She was lucky. Childhood was dangerous in the early colony. About 20 percent of children died in their first year, and as many as 40 percent failed to reach adulthood. Some parents called their infants “it” because they didn’t want to get too attached.
But Anne deeply mourned the loss of three of her young grandchildren, who died within a short period.
Good Puritan Mother
The good Puritan mother was supposed to wean herself from her attachment to her children. She should let them go to their heavenly reward — and be happy about it.
Anne Bradstreet tried. When her grandchild Elizabeth died at one-and-a-half years old, she wrote,
Blest babe why should I once bewail thy fate, Or sigh thy days so soon were terminate; Since thou are settled in an Everlasting state.
She wrote many poems about her marriage, her children and the world around her. Her feelings about her children are expressed in the poem, In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659. It ends:
When each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov’d you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And ‘fore she once would let you fly
She shew’d you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.
(Read the whole poem here.)
Anne Bradstreet Gate
Anne’s father and husband helped found Harvard, and two of her sons graduated from the college. In 1997, Harvard dedicated the Bradstreet Gate in her memory.
Later in life, Anne Bradstreet suffered from tuberculosis and paralysis of her joints. In 1666, when she was in her mid-50s, her house burned down and her family left homeless. She died at the age of 60 on Sept. 16, 1672.
Image: Bradstreet Gate by By Daderot – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10746804.
This story updated in 2022.