Penelope Winslow: Plymouth Colony’s First Lady with Michelle Marchetti Coughlin

In her new book, Penelope Winslow, Plymouth Colony First Lady: Re-Imagining a Life, author Michelle Marchetti Coughlin discovers that blending historical records with material culture provides the keys to re-imagining Winslow’s world in all its rich complexity. Michelle presented her findings at a Lunch and Learn forum held at Plymouth & Patuxet on September 3, 2020. Click here for a 57-minute video of a similar presentation given at the Alden House Museum in Duxbury, MA on November 9, 2019.

In her presentation, Michelle (pictured above) noted that Penelope Pelham Winslow, a member of the English gentry who was married to Plymouth Colony Governor Josiah Winslow (pictured center with a portrait of his father, Edward, on the right) was one of the most powerful women in Plymouth Colony’s history. Like most of her female contemporaries, however, Penelope has largely been forgotten


Pictured above is Ferriers, where Penelope was born. Though she authored or is mentioned in few surviving documents, Penelope left behind a trove of physical evidence—from surviving homes and possessions to archaeological artifacts—that provides great insight into her experiences. They also offer a portal into the world of Plymouth Colony’s women. (Pictured above is a shoe once thought to be hers but later discovered to be a man’s shoe.) [The Winslow portraits, shoe and purse are all displayed at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA.]

Pictured above is a small purse that Penelope was supposed to have made along with portraits of the wife and daughter of King Charles I. Author Michelle is currently working as a MassHumanities Discussion Grant Project Scholar on a program series commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth, Mass., Michelle has planned multiple programs on women’s history and New England slavery, several of which have aired on C-SPAN.




(Above) The historic Winslow House, from c. 1699 and located in Marshfield, Mass., was built by Penelope’s son, Isaac, who lived there with his wife, Sarah, six children and servants and slaves in the early 1700s. At the right is a photo of a Wainscot Joined chair from 1630 which was a Winslow family possession. [Courtesy Pilgrim Hall Museum]

Click here for a similar presentation given on Zoom on November 18, 2020 for the Massachusetts Historical Society.