Women of the Mayflower
Three significant resources on the women passengers of the Mayflower are Caleb Johnson’s The Mayflower and her Passengers (n.p.: Xlibris, 2006), on which I rely heavily, Robert Charles Anderson, The Mayflower Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth, 1620 (Boston: NEHGS, 2020), as well as his other works in the Great Migration Project (particularly The Pilgrim Migration, 2004, for which The Mayflower Migration is an updating), and Sue Allan, In the Shadow of Men: the Lives of Separatist Women (Burgess Hill: Domtom Publishing, Ltd., 2020), a well written collection of biographical sketches which fills in quite a bit of the English social, historical and religious background both for women who came and those who stayed in England.
Prior to the Mayflower, very few English women had made the voyage across the ocean. Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke colony was founded in 1587, and among the 120 colonists there were 17 women: a baby girl, Virginia Dare, was born after arrival. When re-supply ships came from England, the colony had mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again. Jamestown was founded in 1607, but few women made that voyage until 1619.
As the Mayflower left for America, there were 19 adult women on-board. Three of them, Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White, and Mary Allerton, were actually in their last trimester of pregnancy. All the adult women on the Mayflower were married, with the exception of Mrs. Carver’s maid, Dorothy (who became Francis Eaton’s second wife -- see Caleb Johnson’s careful and fascinating reconstruction of the record in Mayflower Passengers, 263-265); there were a few teenage girls nearing marriageable age. While no women would die during the Mayflower's voyage, 78% of the women would die the first winter, a far higher percentage than for men or children. Dorothy Bradford was the first woman to die, in December: more about the debate over whether her death was suicide when the time comes. Most of the women's death dates were not recorded (nor were most of the men’s dates, for that matter), but we do know that Rose Standish died on January 29, Mary Allerton died on February 25, and Elizabeth Winslow died on March 24. Most women died in February and March.
Only five women survived the first winter. Katherine Carver died in May of a "broken heart," her husband John having died of sunstroke a month earlier. By the time of the famous "Thanksgiving," there were only four women left to care for the Colony's fifty surviving men and children (and Massasoit with 90 native warriors as “guests”): Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna (White) Winslow. Of the wives who had been left behind, four came on the Anne in 1623, had additional children, and raised their families at Plymouth.