Female Agency and Migration in the Iberian Atlantic

Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:50 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center)
Allyson M. Poska, University of Mary Washington
Often the scholarship on early modern migration has assumed that Spanish women who made the transatlantic journey did so accompanied by or in concert with men, usually male relatives; however, in reality, female migration (alone and in groups) was an expected part of early modern European society. Already by the sixteenth century, women regularly engaged in both short and long distance migration around the Iberian peninsula. Except for the most elite women, there was no social stigma attached to travelling or migrating alone or in single-sex groups. Galician women migrated to Portugal, Catalan women left for Andalucia, and Cantabrian women traipsed across the mountains to Castile. They did so on their own volition in search of work, to be closer to family members, and/or drawn by a sense of restlessness or adventure. With the conquest and colonization of the Americas, the ease with which women made the decision to migrate transferred easily from peninsular migration to transatlantic migration. In fact, women regularly made the transatlantic journey both to and from Spain unaccompanied by men. Using an array of sources from across the colonial period, including sixteenth-century licenses to travel, letters by migrating women, and documentation from colonial colonization projects, this presentation will explore the reasons that single, married, and widowed women of all races undertook the Atlantic journey and will reflect on how women’s ability to migrate reveals yet another manifestation of early modern Spanish women’s agency.