Anne Bradstreet

America's First Published Poet

Title page, second (posthumous) edition of Bradstreet's poems, 1678
Title page, second (posthumous) edition of Bradstreet's poems, 1678. Library of Congress

About Anne Bradstreet

Known for: Anne Bradstreet was America's first published poet. She's also known, through her writings, for her intimate view of life in early Puritan New England. In her poems, women are quite capable of reason, even while Anne Bradstreet largely accepts the traditional and Puritan assumptions about gender roles.

Dates: ~1612 - September 16, 1672

Occupation: poet

Also known as: Anne Dudley, Anne Dudley Bradstreet

Biography

Anne Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley, one of six children of Thomas Dudley and Dorothy Yorke Dudley. Her father was a clerk and served as steward (estate manager) for the Earl of Lincoln's estate in Sempsingham. Anne was privately educated, and read extensively from the Earl's library. (The Earl of Lincoln's mother was also an educated woman who had published a book on child care.)

After a bout with smallpox, Anne Bradstreet married her father's assistant, Simon Bradstreet, probably in 1628. Her father and husband were both among the Puritans of England, and the Earl of Lincoln supported their cause. But when their position in England weakened, some Puritans decided to move to America and establish a model community.

Anne Bradstreet and the New World

Anne Bradstreet, along with her husband and her father, and such others as John Winthrop and John Cotton, were in the Arbella, the lead ship of eleven that set off in April and landed in Salem Harbor in June of 1630.

The new immigrants including Anne Bradstreet found conditions much worse than they'd expected. Anne and her family had been relatively comfortable in England; now, life was harsher. Yet, as a later poem of Bradstreet's makes clear, they "submitted" to God's will.

Anne Bradstreet and her husband moved around quite a bit, living in Salem, Boston, Cambridge, and Ipswich before settling in 1645 or 1646 in North Andover on a farm.

Beginning in 1633, Anne bore eight children. As she noted in a later poem, half were girls, half boys:

I had eight birds hatched in one nest,
Four Cocks there were, and Hens the rest.

Anne Bradstreet's husband was a lawyer, judge, and legislator who was often absent for long periods. In 1661, he even returned to England to negotiate new charter terms for the colony with King Charles II. These absences left Anne in charge of the farm and family, keeping house, raising the children, managing the farm's work.

When her husband was home, Anne Bradstreet often acted as hostess. Her health was often poor, and she had bouts of serious illness. It is likely that she had tuberculosis. Yet among all this, she found time to write poetry.

Anne Bradstreet's brother-in-law, the Rev. John Woodbridge, took some of her poems to England with him, where he had them published without her knowledge in 1650 in a book titled The Tenth Muse Lately Spring Up in America.

Anne Bradstreet continued to write poetry, focusing more on personal experience and everyday life. She edited ("corrected") her own version of the earlier works for republication, and after her death, a collection titled Several Poems including many new poems and a new edition of The Tenth Muse was published in 1678.

Anne Bradstreet also wrote prose, addressed to her son, Simon, with advice on such things as how to raise "Diverse Children."

Cotton Mather mentions Anne Bradstreet in one of his books. He compares her to such (female) luminaries as "Hippatia" and the Empress Eudocia.

Anne Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672, after a few months' illness. While the cause of death is not certain, the likelihood is that it was her tuberculosis.

Twenty years after her death, her husband played a minor role in the events surrounding the Salem witch trials.

Descendants of Anne Bradstreet include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Richard Henry Dana, William Ellery Channing, and Wendell Phillips.

More: About Anne Bradstreet's Poetry

Selected Anne Bradstreet Quotations

• If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

• If what I do prove well, it won't advance,
They'll say it's stolen, or else it was by chance.

• If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.

• Iron, till it be thoroughly heated, is incapable to be wrought; so God sees good to cast some men into the furnace of affliction and then beats them on his anvil into what frame he pleases.

• Let Greeks be Greeks and women what they are.

• Youth is the time of getting, middle age of improving, and old age of spending.

• There is no object that we see; no action that we do; no good that we enjoy; no evil that we feel, or fear, but we may make some spiritual advantage of all: and he that makes such improvement is wise, as well as pious.

• Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Anne Bradstreet." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/anne-bradstreet-biography-3528577. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, May 9). Anne Bradstreet. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/anne-bradstreet-biography-3528577 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Anne Bradstreet." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/anne-bradstreet-biography-3528577 (accessed December 17, 2017).