Colonial American Women

Lesson 1: Women in Colonial America
Time Estimated: 1 day

  1. Examine the lives of colonial women in America
  2. Compare and contrast colonial life in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies
  3. Explore the roles of various social groups, including women indentured servants, slaves, commoners and the upper class
  4. Work effectively with a partner to analyze documents.


Student Worksheets

A Midwife’s Tale

Websites (bookmark for each station)
Station 1
Station 2
Station 3
Station 4


  1. Hook: Have students respond in their notebooks to the following prompt: “During the colonial period, women worked only in the home.” Explain why you think this statement is true or false, using as many examples as possible.
  2. After students have written their answers, discuss the idea with the class, and get students to explain or defend their arguments.
  3. Introduction: Explain to students that they will be exploring the roles of women in Colonial America. Show an excerpt from the Martha Ballard film that will help students visualize Martha’s story in particular, but also the clothing, housing, and lifestyle of the period. Also as an introduction, as a class we will look at the Martha Ballard diary website and use the “magic lens”.
  4. Activity: Place students in mixed-ability pairs. Students will proceed through a series of stations, at which they will examine the lives of some very different women in colonial America. Together with their partner, each student will read, evaluate, and interpret the documents, and then answer the questions on their worksheet. Some stations will require the use of the internet. Computers should be bookmarked with the websites that students will use.
  5. After pairs have finished looking at the documents and answering questions, the class will come back together. Students will have an opportunity to share their answers and to ask questions.
  6. Wrap Up: Ask students which woman in Colonial America they would most like to meet: Martha Ballard, Elizabeth Sprigs, Lady Randolph, or one of the enslaved women. Why would they like to meet her? What questions would they ask her? What advice would they give her?


An important way to differentiate would be to pare down the readings from the Ballard diary and the Spriggs letter for certain students. For students who are quick readers or very interested in the topic, more diary excerpts and other resources could be provided. They could also extend the culminating project to a more in-depth conversation by involving more than 2 people or creating a diary of their own.