ANN MARBURY HUTCHINSON,
America's First Feminist  (1591-1660)
Courageous Exponent Of Civil Liberty
And Religious Toleration

by L. Crewe

Born in England, Anne Marbury witnessed the religious persecution of her father, a deacon, then rector, who was twice imprisoned because he spoke out against the incompetence and lack of training of the Church of England’s ministers. Anne was home schooled and became as learned in religion and theology as she was influenced by her father’s ideals and assertiveness (2).

In 1612, she married Will Hutchinson, became expert in midwifery, and bore him fifteen children. She left for the colonies with her family in 1634 to seek a less oppressive religious environment and to follow her beloved minister John Cotton (3). Little did she realize that Massachusetts Bay Colony was authoritarian and theocratic; all the ministers were men, the Church controlled the political power (4) and women were judged to be inferior beings with inferior minds forbidden to think; they were supposed to obey and serve men, breed children, and forbidden to teach about religion.

Not content with merely listening, Anne started a woman’s group. As her reputation grew, so did the group to include over eighty men and women, including Governor John Vane, and from discussing biblical texts she moved to commenting and criticizing teaching from the pulpit, once even walking out with her friend Mary Dyer on a sermon given by a John Wilson (5).  Anne believed in a personal closeness with God, a simple path to salvation guided by one’s personal conscience. “As I understand it, laws, commands, rules and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway.” She questioned original sin saying that one could not look into the eyes of a child and see sin (5), and she spoke out against Indian slavery and racial prejudice (6).

Such teachings by a woman were considered dangerous and an attack on the political power and authority of the male clergy. In 1637 John Winthrop won the governorship, and he saw Anne’s self-expression as a direct threat. “A thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God, nor fitting for your sex” he ranted (7), “an American Jezebel, gone a-whoring from God, should be tried as a heretic”(8).

And tried she was, under guise of trying to overthrow the government by breaking the fifth commandment and refusing to defer to the magistrates - her fathers in the colony - and to the clergy - her fathers in the church.   Alone in front of forty-nine men, she proved herself to be “deft in theological sparring intellectually superior to her accusers and a woman of conscience who yielded to no authority” (9). Even Winthrop was forced to admit that she was “A woman of haughty and fierce carriage, a nimble wit and active spirit, a very voluble tongue, more bold than a male.” (10). Yet, she was judged guilty, even Cotton turned against her.  “If you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be the truth, I must commit myself to the Lord”(11) she retorted.

Banished from the colony by Winthrop and excommunicated by Wilson from the Church, Anne moved to what would later become Rhode Island and then New York. Eventually killed in an Indian attack, she still fared better than Mary Dyer, who was hanged in 1660 because she refused to deny her faith as a Quaker.

Footnotes:
1.  Engraving at the base of her statue in Boston.
2. “Anne Hutchinson: Biography” http://www.annehutchinson.com
3. Behling, Sam. “Anne Marbury Hutchinson,” http://www.rootsweb.com/nwa/ah/html
4. Gomes, Peter G.  “Anne Hutchinson,” Harvard Magazine November-December 2002.
5. “Anne Hutchinson: Biography” http://www.annehutchinson.com
6. Wikipedia. http:/www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Hutchinson
7. “Anne Hutchinson: Biography”
8. Behling
9. “Anne Hutchinson, Biography”
10.Gomes
11.“Anne Hutchinson, Biography”

Ann Marbury Hutchinson, America's First Feminist
©2007 Laconneau/Crewe

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