When asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated, Aristotle answered,
'As much as the living are to the dead.'
In the 1600s, higher education was prized, and boys and young men were trained in science, literature, history, religion, and liberal arts. After the home-schooled Anne Hutchinson defended herself so eloquently and bested the magistrates in debates at trial in November 1637 and March 1638, Massachusetts established Harvard College to train its teen boys to the ministry.
A few women were well-educated from their early years in
as a result of tutors or fathers guiding their learning. They were the
exception, not the rule. Most Puritan women could read well enough to get
through their Bibles, but that was all. In the first decades of colonial New England, schools were only for boys.
Ann Yale Hopkins, the wife of Governor Edward Hopkins of Connecticut in the 1640s and ‘50s, was believed to have gone insane not because she inherited madness or was driven to it by illness, injury, fear, or unbearable hardships of first-generation settlers (understandable contributing factors), but because of her scholarship and the resulting mental exhaustion.
Massachusetts Bay colonial Gov. John Winthrop, whose beloved wife Margaret wrote letters and conducted her husband’s business in
while he started the colony in Boston,
wrote of Ann Hopkins:
“Mr. Hopkins, the governor of Hartford upon Connecticut, came to Boston, and brought his wife with him, (a godly young woman, and of special parts,) who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason, which had been growing upon her divers years, by occasion of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband, being very loving and tender of her, was loath to grieve her [about spending too much time in reading and writing]; but he saw his error, when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her.” ~John Winthrop's Journal
|The Hopkins' house,|
Edward Hopkins (born 1600) and Ann Yale Hopkins (born 1615) were among the co-founders of
Haven, Connecticut in 1637, but
after only two months, moved to Hartford and set
up a 120-acre farm and merchant trade with Turkey. Edward was elected governor
or deputy governor for many one-year terms, even after he returned to England. The
house they lived in from 1640 still exists on Popieluszko Court in Hartford.
It was sometimes seen as a judgment from God that a woman was barren. Ann had no children, which was a huge disappointment to Puritans. As
wrote, “such things as belong to women,” and “the place God had set her.”
Coming from an education-minded family, reading and writing may have been a
consolation to her, just as people in our day sometimes bury themselves in
creative pursuits or work. Ann exhibited signs of insanity beginning at about
age 32 in 1647. Because men disapproved of women exhausting their brains, it is
highly probable that her books and writing materials were removed from her at
Interestingly, her husband survived an Indian assassination attempt in 1646, the year before Ann’s illness was observed. It’s possible that fear helped push Ann past the threshold of reason.
Edward and Ann returned to
permanently in 1652, perhaps because of Ann’s condition. He was engaged by
Parliament as a naval commissioner, but died in 1657. Ann was cared for until
her death by her Yale relatives in north Wales.
Edward's large bequests helped fund a
school named in his honor. ‘Hopkins is the
third oldest independent school in the country. The School has been operating
since 1660, and has retained as its historic mission, ‘the breeding up of
hopeful youths...for the publique service of the country in future tymes.’
Congressmen, doctors, lawyers, Yale Presidents, and civil activists all had
their start at New Haven, Connecticut Hopkins and are the embodiment of
mission,” says a fundraising
site. Another generous bequest by Edward Hopkins benefited Harvard College
In the next generation, Elihu Yale, born in
Boston in 1649, was one of the major
benefactors of . Elihu is
entombed at Wrexham, Yale
where there’s a , founded in 1950.
Both the Welsh college and Yale
university are named after Elihu Yale, Ann’s nephew.
England women suffered mental illness, which was sometimes charged
as witchcraft or being possessed by Satan. Several women killed or attempted
murder on their children, and were hanged. One woman flung her child into a
pond, and when the toddler crawled out and returned to its mother, the mother
threw her child back in the water. A witness saved the child and reported the
mother, who said that she wanted to spare her child from “further misery.” Yet another
delusional mother wanted to save her baby from going to hell, so she killed it.
There were no asylums, but family members or hired help became caretakers of the insane. The magistrates granted latitude to people who were known to be seriously disturbed when committing lesser crimes, but when it came to murder, the insane were executed for that crime.
That Ann Yale Hopkins was the wife and then widow of a wealthy man who was a governor probably lent to her long life in the care of family members instead of an insane asylum. Anne lived until 1698, and died at age 83 near Wrexham,
Wales. Knowing the love of learning
in the Yale family, perhaps Ann was permitted to read during times of lucidity,
or be read to.
We can thank our 17th-century forefathers and foremothers for their deep commitment and personal sacrifices to improving their own minds and the minds of their children, and setting a tradition of pursuit of first-class education. They knew that with education comes prosperity in virtually every aspect of human life.
The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.
Christy K Robinson is a freelance copy editor of books, magazines, and websites. She recently published the first of two biographical novels on Mary Dyer, an Englishwoman who committed civil disobedience in the cause of liberty of conscience and separation of church and state. Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston in 1660, and her death brought Charles II’s order for tolerance and cessation of death penalty that was echoed in a colonial charter the next year *breathe here* which became a model for America’s constitutional rights to free speech and religious expression. (That sentence is nearly as long as the time it took to bring Mary’s sacrifice to codification!). Mary Dyer Illuminated is available in paperback and Kindle editions, worldwide. Christy’s website is http://ChristyKRobinson.com .