5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love, Jenny-Lyn de Klerk. Wheaton: Crossway, 2023. Paperback, 155 pages.
When most people hear about the Puritans, their thoughts turn to old, dead white guys. Besides being stereotyped as legalistic killjoys, they’re often regarded as chauvinistic and perhaps even patriarchal by today’s standards. Women were supposedly marginalized; they were without a voice. There was a solid glass (or perhaps brass) ceiling facing any women who might have wanted to write or speak about the Christian faith. Well, Dr. Jenny-Lyn de Klerk shows how this ceiling is a myth.
De Klerk aims to counter two prevailing approaches to Puritan women. One is ignorance – which is what most of us have when it comes to them. For example, I’m fairly well read in matters Puritan, but I was really only acquainted with one of the women included in this book. The other prevailing approach pays ample attention to these women (and others) but misconstrues them in the service of feminist scholarship. De Klerk writes, “I cannot count how many times I have read articles that literally argue these women said the exact opposite of what they actually said” (p.20). In contrast, she wants to present them on their own terms and spark a revival of reading their works.
This book features the stories of five fascinating Puritan women. Each of them is presented under the rubric of their roles and the way they exemplified a particular spiritual discipline:
- Agnes Beaumont: Daughter as Evangelist, Using Memorization
- Lucy Hutchinson: Mother as Theologian, Using Fellowship
- Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick: Wife as Philanthropist, Using Meditation
- Anne Bradstreet: Grandmother as Homemaker, Using Prayer
- Lady Brilliana Harley: Matriarch as Physician, Using Spiritual Conversation
With this approach, not only do you learn facts about their lives, you also benefit from their “great insight into the Christian life and good instincts regarding matters of human relationships” (p.21).
Anne Bradstreet was the woman I’d heard about previously – she is well-known for her poetry. I first read about her in the first edition of Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson – it was hard to miss the only woman included in this survey of dozens of Puritans. But in de Klerk’s book, it’s Lucy Hutchinson who really stands out to me. According to de Klerk, Hutchinson was the only woman known to write a piece of systematic theology in the seventeenth century. She wrote Principles of the Christian Religion for her daughter Barbara. Reading about it made me want to read it for myself – and it’s easy to find online. Once you get used to the archaic spellings, you’ll find it both doctrinally and practically encouraging.
5 Puritan Women makes me curious whether there are more Puritan women out there waiting to be discovered. De Klerk has a breezy style of writing drawing you in and producing that effect. While her main audience seems to be other women, it’ll be enjoyed by men too – particularly if you have an interest in church history.
Originally published in Clarion 72.12 (September 22, 2023)