In 1692 the world witnessed one of the most notorious cases of mass hysteria in Colonial America, the Salem Witch Trials. Individuals, mostly women, were accused, prosecuted, and subsequently executed for the charge of witchcraft. Many aspects of the trials have already been heavily researched with a notable idea presenting itself in every case as an indicator of proposed guilt: the threat these women, and some men who associated with them, posed to the patriarchal society of Salem by challenging gender ideology. This research project is a micro study of four women from Salem whose challenge of gender norms resulted in their accusations, prosecutions, and executions. The Puritan society of Salem prescribed a specific set of ideals regarding women and how they should behave. These ideals dictated how women were regarded and respected legally, politically, and socially. Because of this, women who spoke or acted out against the patriarchal system, in which power is primarily held by men, or violated the societal gender ideologies, were targeted with the label of witchcraft. Additionally, an unprecedented amount of hearsay and spectral evidence was widely accepted in late 17th century courts and considered sufficient to prove guilt and issue warrants for execution. Under these ideals women were seen as creators, wives, mothers. A woman’s relationship to nature was considered unique and valuable until this relationship became difficult to control or regulate by men or the community. Under the label of witchcraft, they were seen as destroyers, manipulators, unfit to mother. Now her relationship to nature is seen as unnatural and unholy, raising questions about women’s use of spiritual gifts and magic. In an attempt to delve deeper into the story of these four women, this study examined eyewitness testimonies given by women against those accused, and a startling pattern of women reinforcing gender norms and male dominance was identified. The contribution of this paper identifies the unique role women play in enforcement of gender ideologies in patriarchal society. It also suggests the need to further examine how other women contribute to the persecution of their own sisters, mothers, and friends. Creating awareness of this comparison is extremely significant in addressing and correcting inequalities women continue to face today.
University / Institution: Utah Valley University
Format: In Person
SESSION A (9:00-10:30AM)
Area of Research: Humanities
Faculty Mentor: Lyn Bennett
Location: Union Building, PARLOR A (9:00am)