LET ME TELL YOU A STORY ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE WOMEN WRITERS.
Women have gotten the short end of the straw in history, which, as a woman myself, is a huge disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I love male writers- I love Faulkner and Hemingway and Shakespeare- but it was extremely discouraging for there to be very little female representation in the books I was assigned to read in high school. I wanted to be a writer, but history seemed to be telling me, “hey, there’s no place for you here unless you’re a man.”
You can imagine how that made a self-conscious, shy, impressionable sixteen-year-old feel.
Doing some research of my own, however (again- the internet is a magical place) I discovered that women DID have a place in the world of writing, even if that place wasn’t often talked about in my high school classes. For example, Mary Shelley was the writer of Frankenstein, which is widely considered to be the first (and one of the best) pieces of science fiction. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy might very well be the first superhero story (an aside- every time I see people say that nobody would watch a Black Widow movie because she’s a woman I want to tell them this. Because there wouldn’t BE superhero movies without a women? Emma Orczy basically invented the superhero archetype that directly lead to the creation of comic book superheroes? Yeah.). Women in literature are extremely, profoundly important. They’re just rarely talked about.
Well, this is the perfect venue to begin talking about them
Elizabeth Ashbridge was born in 1713 and died in 1755. We only know what we know about her because of an autobiography she wrote, aptly titled Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge…Written by her own Hand many years ago. Though it is fairly short (I got through it in less than half an hour), it is extremely powerful. The existence of this document shows a lot in just a few pages; it discusses religion, the difficulties a woman had to face in a time when she had very few rights, indentured servitude, and racial differences. The best thing about this document is that we learn all of these things through the viewpoint of a very intelligent, very strong woman, which a point of view that modern readers rarely get to see.
The first thing Ashbridge does in her autobiography is ask her readers to not make the mistakes that she did, and to “shun the evils into which [she’s] been drawn.” She then gives a brief history of her childhood, and how she was raised by a very religious mother. At this point, everything seems to be standard; she seems like any other young British girl in the 1700s.
That’s when things start to get wild. When she was fourteen she fell in love with a boy and, without the permission of her parents, ran away with him in the middle of the night to get married. She totally pulled a Lydia Bennet here, FYI.
Her parents, especially her father, where livid. When her husband ended up dying after only five months (that is SO SAD) her father refuses to take her back, leaving her instead to live with relatives in Dublin… who happened to be Quakers.
Do you know how in some movies and books there are those couples who hate each other right from the beginning? Like they’re complete opposites and they bicker and argue all the time? In movies like that the audience always knows what’s going to happen- they always know that at some point the couple will have a beautiful bonding moment and will end up falling in love. It’s magical. “Opposites attract,” we’ll say as we wipe our teary eyes as the credits begin to roll.
Well. That’s a lot like what happens when Elizabeth Ashbridge. From the very beginning she HATES the Quaker faith, even though she really doesn’t know anything about it. However, it’s the faith she keeps coming back to, despite her mocking tone.
Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Ashbridge goes through a lot of religions in her search for the truth; she dabbles in Catholicism and Protestantism, but never seems happy with them. She seems the most comfortable with the Church of England, as that’s the religion she grew up with, but it’s obvious that it isn’t quite the right fit for her.
Over the course of her religious journey, she also deals with a lot of struggles in her personal life. She ends up traveling to America in hopes of meeting her family in Pennsylvania, but ends up being tricked into being an indentured servant. Her life in captivity is pretty awful; her master is described as being a horrible man, obviously abusive in some manner though it is not explicitly stated in what way. He is a religious man, and that makes it very difficult for her to also be religious at well; she can’t reconcile how a religious man could do such terrible things.
She eventually buys her freedom and gets married to a man she doesn’t actually love. He’s a schoolmaster, and she isn’t entirely happy with him.
Eventually, she does make it to Pennsylvania to visit her family… but it turns out, in the plot twist of all plot twists, that they’re Quakers. She is initially very perturbed by them, but slowly begins to realize that the Quaker faith is what she was looking for all along. Her husband is extremely unhappy with this, becoming physically and emotionally abusive. She continues, though, walking eight miles a day in order to make the meetings. She is eventually free to practice her faith without her husband’s scorn after he passes away. She becomes a Quaker minister until she dies.
Ashbridge’s story is intensely inspiring. She survives the kinds of struggles people of our age wouldn’t even be able to comprehend, and once she finds the faith she intensely believes in she fights for her right to practice it. That’s pretty awesome, and I’m glad that I got the chance to learn her story.