Confronting Patriarchy

Massachusetts - 1637

The Trial of Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643) was an English-born Massachusetts Puritan known as an active religious leader and midwife. Anne periodically organized religious meetings for women and challenged the political authority of the clergy. The consequence of Hutchinson's gatherings was divisive, leading her supporters to compose a significant majority in the colony. As a result, Hutchinson was convicted for “traducing the ministers” of the church in 1637. The governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, served as both the prosecutor and judge during her trial. Hutchinson was declared “a woman not fit for our society” and excommunicated from the church. Banished from Massachusetts, Hutchinson eventually settled on Long Island and in 1643 she was killed during an Indian raid.

Anne's Influence

Anne Hutchinson is well known chiefly for her role in the controversial confrontation with the Church of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During the predominately Christian era, female activism in religious life promoted women with high regard, allowing a much greater impact upon historical record. Several components leading to Hutchinson's social dominance was an educational background in theology and conscientious dissent, talents for domestic leadership and in the use of herbal remedies, and finally her descent from a highly prestigious Anglican clergyman. These advantages provided Anne with a prominent position in the Puritan colony upon arrival in Boston. Among the female community members Anne communicated her heretical religious beliefs, her devotional meetings eventually becoming a common practice. Hutchinson stressed the indwelling Holy Spirit, which conflicted with the Church's new demand for emphasis on reflective morality. The claims threatened the divinity of the Church's clergy and highlighted Anne as a necessary target.

Gender & Sexuality

The domestic setting for Hutchinson’s leadership is key to understanding the role of pre-modern women in religious life. Women in colonial America were taught to follow the examples of their mothers, by thirteen they were tasked with adult burdens. The duties of a women/mothers were to nurture their children, prepare food, and dictate domestic household activities. A woman's identity and property, however rightfully belonged to the man of the household, indicating prompt subordination to him. Women who stepped outside of the traditional gender roles represented an "ill-guided spirit" in a world which men simply were unable to make sense of their position. Men had been socialized from birth to be the dominate figure of their families and society. Their collective insecurity about their social place contributed to their harsh treatment of women who stepped outside the traditional gender roles of Colonial life.