Throughout the month of March, in celebration of Women’s History Month, every Friday in Stanza we’ll be highlighting important women’s “firsts” in American poetry. This week, we remember three women poets who were pioneers in American publishing.
Anne Bradstreet, known for such poems as “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “Verses upon the Burning of our House,” was born in 1612 in Northamptonshire, England, but at the age of eighteen, she immigrated to America with her family and settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. There Bradstreet began to write some of her famous verses, and in 1650, her book The Tenth Muse Sprung Up in America was published in England, making her the first published female writer in America.
About a century later, another historic first came in the form of Martha Wadsworth Brewster’s Poems on Divers Subjects, one of only four volumes of poetry published by colonial women. The collection, which included poems, acrostics, letters, and some prose, tackled what was considered radical subject matter for a woman, such as military events and war. With this book, Brewster became the first American-born woman to publish under her own name. In fact, when the book first appeared, Brewster had to prove her authorship by publicly paraphrasing a psalm into a poem, as the public was skeptical that a woman could write poetry.
Sixteen years after Brewster’s Poems on Divers Subjects, Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects. Wheatley, who was kidnapped in West Africa and sold in New England in 1761, quickly learned to speak English, read, and write, and with the publication of her book, she became the first African American, the first slave, and the third woman in the United States to publish a book of poems.
For more on some of the historic and contemporary women poets who have influenced the history of American literature, visit our Women’s History Month page and check back in Stanza.