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September 7, 2016

Anne Hutchinson: “The First Feminist in the New World”

For centuries women have fought against numerous injustices forced upon them because of their gender. Some of these injustices include the right to be seen as an equal to men, the right to vote, and the right for equal pay, along with many more. Although women have succeeded in breaking down some of these barriers, there are still many inequalities being fought today. During the seventeenth century, there was one woman in particular who battled in opposition to social injustice: Anne Hutchinson. This article is about the life of a brave woman who opposed an unfair law forbidding men and women from freely practicing their religion, and who also challenged the preposterous roles women were limited to in the religious community.

Anne Hutchinson statue | Massachusetts | courtesy of The New York Library Digital Collections
Anne Hutchinson statue | Massachusetts | courtesy of The New York Library Digital Collections

Anne Hutchinson, maiden name Anne Marbury, was born July 20, 1591, in Alford, England. She was the daughter of a midwife and a Cambridge scholar who published many unorthodox religious texts. In fact, Francis Marbury’s teachings were banned from where he was a teacher, at Saint Wilfred’s School in Alford. After vigorous pleading, Marbury was able to have the ban lifted, and he began teaching again in 1602. 1 Perhaps this is where Anne inherited her tenacious spirit to express her opinion. In 1605, at the young age of fourteen, Anne and her family moved to London for her father’s new position as rector of Saint Martin’s Vintry, leaving behind Anne’s boyfriend, a tailor named William Hutchinson. After the death of Anne’s father in 1611, Hutchinson moved to London to be with Anne; the next year the two were married. That same year, the newlywed bride returned to Alford where her husband continued his tailor business, and Anne followed in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife. Anne and William went on to raise thirteen children together in Alford. 2

In 1612, newly ordained Puritan minister John Cotton began preaching at Saint Botolph’s Church in Boston, Lincolnshire, not far from Alford where Anne Hutchinson resided. His unique approach greatly intrigued Hutchinson. 3 Cotton’s preaching and his understandings of religion reminded Anne of her father’s teachings. Anne enjoyed Cotton’s work so much, that in 1633, when Cotton immigrated to New England, Anne convinced her husband to move there as well. In 1634, Anne and her family made the long transition to Massachusetts. 4

The following year, in 1635, Hutchinson began holding weekly gatherings in her home to discuss minister Cotton’s sermons. Anne and her followers addressed their beliefs of sheer grace as opposed to the Calvinist theological viewpoint of predestination. Hutchinson and her followers believed that God alone grants salvation to whomever He believes is worthy of His grace, without human interaction. The clergy in New England taught that people could gain God’s grace by willingly performing various covenant conditions, such as performing good deeds, reciting prayers, attending church, along with other forms of religious practice. 5 Anne’s critics called her teachings Antinomianism. The Greek word is translated as “hostile to the law.” Anne provoked the colony leaders by proclaiming that members of their clergy who had not undergone a conversion experience had no authority to be held responsible for the spiritual offices of the colony. She also brought attention to the common yet unfair assumptions of women’s roles within Puritan society. 6 Anne’s following continued to grow, and it became so significant that in the 1636 governor’s election, the colony prevented the reelection of the current governor John Winthrop, and elected Sir Henry Vane the Younger into office. Sir Henry was an outspoken supporter of Anne’s movement, and he was a strong supporter of the anti-Winthrop movement.

Anne Hutchinson Preaching in her House in Boston in 1637 | Illustration from 'Colonies and Nation' by Woodrow Wilson | courtesy of Credo Images
Anne Hutchinson Preaching in her House in Boston in 1637 | Illustration from ‘Colonies and Nation’ by Woodrow Wilson | courtesy of Credo Images

Anne’s rising popularity caused three major problems for the colonial leaders. First, Anne’s gatherings paralleled preaching, which was strictly limited to those with a licence, and was absolutely forbidden to women. Second, the New England clergy was putting forth great effort in order to establish a unified church. Anne’s teachings contradicted their efforts. Third, Anne’s supporters consisted of both men and women. This act challenged the status quo of men being the only influential figures within society. 7 Never before had a woman caused so much trouble for authority figures, nor had a woman been the leader of a huge support of individuals.

The turning point of Anne’s momentum occurred during the governor election in May 1637, when former governor John Winthrop was reelected to office. It is not difficult to understand why Winthrop put Hutchinson on trial for heresy when he took office in November. 8 Winthrop was desperate to regain social order within the colony. The trial was held publicly to make an example out of Hutchinson, to show what happens to those who oppose the church and therefore oppose the colonial leadership. Anne surprised many with her witty banter and intellectual remarks. She defended herself quite impressively, proving her knowledge of the Bible and religious laws, and also by providing evidence demonstrating that her accused charge was based on more circumstantial evidence than proven facts of illegal activity. For example, the court tried to charge her with sedition, or an action suggesting discontent or rebellious actions against the government. Hutchinson made it clear that expressing opinions and holding conversations within a women’s meeting was not an illegal act. The statements made within those meetings were confidential because they were held in the privacy of her home. The spectacle of a self-educated woman verbally battling a governor who was a Cambridge scholar on an equal level was unheard of. Despite Hutchinson’s efforts, she was still convicted and banished from the colony. Anne was at a disadvantage from the start with civil officers, elected deputies, and clergymen represented as the jury in the trial. 9 After the verdict, Anne, her family, and a few loyal followers migrated to Rhode Island for a short while before settling in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands, which subsequently became New York. In 1643, Anne and her family became victims of an Indian uprising and were killed during the attack.

Anne Hutchinson on trial | Massachusetts | courtesy of Flickr
Anne Hutchinson on trial | Massachusetts | courtesy of Flickr

Anne Hutchinson is seen as one of the first female feminist who fought for religious freedom. Anne’s actions represent a right established to us as Americans in 1791. The first amendment to the Constitution established the freedoms of religion, assembly, speech, press, and petition. Anne’s reasons for refusing to conform to colonial authorities were reasonable and respectable. She was not the only person to fight for individual freedoms; but her courageous start led the way for others to fight against injustices too.


  1. John R. Holmes, “Anne Hutchinson,” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia (January 2016), 1.
  2.  Holmes, “Anne Hutchinson,” 1.
  3.  Francis J. Bremer, “John Cotton,” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia (2016), 1.
  4.  Holmes, “Anne Hutchinson,” 1.
  5.  James F. Cooper, Jr., “Anne Hutchinson and the ‘Lay Rebellion’ against the Clergy,” The New England Quarterly, Inc 61, no. 3 (September 1988): 382-383.
  6.  Alan Brinkley, American History, 15th ed., vol. 1: to 1865 (2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121: McGraw Hill Education, 2015), 45.
  7.  Holmes, “Anne Hutchinson,” 1.
  8. Alan Brinkley, American History, 45.
  9.  Lisa McGunigal, “The Criminal Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Ritual, Religion, and Law,” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 49, no. 2 (June 2016): 1-8.

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Recent Comments

Aylin Salinas

This was quite an eye opener! I was unaware of all that Anne Hutchinson had to face. I had briefly heard her be mentioned in past history classes but not in such detail! It is quite amazing how her husband was willing to move along with all thirteen of her children! Her trial was extremely unfair but what could you expect in that day and age? Her death was really quite tragic but she has really impacted all of those around her! Excellent article! Keep up the good work!



1:48 pm

Yesenia Cardenas

It brings me such joy reading about feminist! I remember briefly learning about Anne Hutchinson, but I never knew all she went through. It amazes me how far us as woman have come since the first civilizations in the New World. This article is ver informative and is well written.



1:48 pm

Jorge Manzanares

Well done! I truly enjoyed your article! Anne Hutchinson was a very influential person in American history. Had she been alive at a later point in time, perhaps she would have accomplished much more for women. She planted the seeds for feminism. Great job on illustrating her contribution to America!



1:48 pm

Jezel Luna

I can never turn down a feminist story and I was very impressed with your work. I don’t remember the last time I read about Anne Hutchinson, but reading this article made me realize how much I wasn’t aware of. She was such a strong and outspoken woman. I didn’t know how much disturbance she caused with authority figures. It was really remarkable how strong she managed to be even when people were bashing her. I applauded her for how brave she was and all her hard work.



1:48 pm

Mariana Sandoval

I liked how you started your article with mentioning the “radical” ideas that her father had. I think it’s fitting that she would follow in her father’s footsteps and become a “radical” thinker as well. I like the fact that on her trial, she was sounded very educated and her arguments were well articulated. Really well written!



1:48 pm

Bailey Rider

This was an excellent article. I like how you brought to our attention the acts of a woman through religion reformation. It’s interesting to see how the church respond to things like this that challenge their power. It is also interesting to see how challenging the church also challenges the political leaders who’s faith governs their policies. I also like that in your article, we could see how Ann Hutchinson influenced a group of people to take political action.



1:48 pm

Gabriela Serrato

I found this article to be incredibly inspiring. I will admit that I have never heard of Anne Hutchinson until this article, but I believe that it is due to the fact that the representation of women in history is so easily over looked in most to all situations. It brings me happiness to see that Anne left her mark, and her story remains to be told. Her standing both proves and validates that women are not the meek and timid who’s only purpose is to remain in the background. Anne was a pioneer in trying to represent that women, too, are just as capable as men in all scenarios. It is sad to see that the beginning of women searching for equal representation began as far back as the 1600’s, and today, in 2017, it is still not so.



1:48 pm

Johnanthony Hernandez

A great article that shows the roots of true feminism and the start for equality among a mans world at the time. I did not know that her actions would later lead to influence the First Amendment, being one of the first female feminist in the New World was sure to have its challenges and the fact that she over came them shows that she inherited her fathers tenacity. She not only paved a road for her fellow women living among her but paved the road that would lead to the same basic rights that at the time only men had.



1:48 pm

Teresa Valdez

Anne Hutchinson was clearly a leader of her time, upsetting the status quo in the way she did. I never knew that she would lead discussions about her faith, although I suppose it makes sense in that these were what thrust her into the spotlight. Great job bringing to light all the chaos that Hutchinson caused simply by being a woman. I liked reading how she broke barriers down to fight for her rights.



1:48 pm

Aimee Trevino

Really impressive article! I had never heard of Anne Hutchinson, but after reading this article I definitely feel she was a role model and a woman way ahead of her time. It is impressive that her father was also very open about his opinions. I like that she also argued for religious freedom. She was fighting for rights some still fight for today, only a couple hundred years earlier.



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