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Gender Roles, Literary Authority, and Three American Women Writers

Anne Dudley Bradstreet, Mercy Otis Warren, Margaret Fuller Ossoli

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Theresa F. Nicolay

This text demonstrates the formation and expansion of the role of the New England woman of letters by examining three of the most important women writers between 1620 and 1850: Anne Bradstreet, Mercy Warren, and Margaret Fuller. The transformation of the New England woman of letters into the professional female author occurs concomitantly with a historical progression, which moves from the provincial to the cosmopolitan to the international, from English patronage to American mercantilism. In short, New England women writers exploited and legitimated their cultural authority, first by using socially recognized roles and then by using the principles of a post-revolutionary liberal society, that is, a marketplace society, to legitimize a diversity of authoritative actions and positions not linked to traditional gender roles.