Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was one of the earliest influential Puritan female spiritual leaders in the United States. American feminists. This stems from her role as a spiritual leader in the Massachusetts Bay colony, whereby she challenged male authority. She also indirectly challenged gender roles by preaching to both women and men. Due to her role in challenging the male-dominated religious leaders of the time in the Massachusetts Bay colony, Hutchison is considered one of the earliest feminists in America. In 1637, Hutchison was accused of being a heretical teacher, where she was found guilty and banished from the colony. It is worth noting that the main reason that Hutchison was tried is her constant challenge of gender roles and not religious heresy, as she was a guardian of religious history who dared question Puritan teachings.
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Like many women of her era, Hutchison had no formal education. However, she was an avid thinker and reader. She was trained as a midwife but had a deep love for religious teachings, whereby she was inspired by Reverend John Cotton, a vicar at the Lincolnshire parish. After she migrated to Boston in 1634, where she worked as a midwife, Hutchison developed strong ties to local women. Subsequently, she began holding meetings with these women in her home to discuss the teachings of Reverend Cotton’s summons. With time, the meetings gradually shifted to critiques of the Puritan beliefs, especially regarding the Covenant of Works. Specifically, Hutchison critiqued the role of good works and adherence to religious law in salvation. Hutchison insisted that the only salvation is by God’s grace (the Covenant of Grace). She also disputed the Puritan belief about good works being a sign of God’s grace. Eventually, her meetings became popular with males, including prominent men.
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Hutchison developed the religious philosophy that underpinned her American preaching. She believed that any person could attain heaven as long as they worshipped God directly; thus, creating a personal connection with God. She also preached that behavior did not determine whether someone went to heaven since God forgives those who sincerely repent their sins. Notably, all these viewpoints were in direct violation of Puritan doctrine. As Hutchison expanded on her ideas, people increasingly flocked to listen to her. By 1336, she held two meetings per week with as many as eighty people attending each session. This included both men and women as well as prominent figures such as Henry Vane, who was the governor of Massachusetts. However, after a year of preaching, Hutchinson started receiving negative attention from the Puritan leadership. The Puritan beliefs held that preaching was reserved for men. They also regarded Hutchison’s ideas as dangerous as they promoted dissension in the colony.
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Hutchison’s popularity significantly bothered religious leaders. Notably, during those times, the Puritan leadership was the true authority in the theocratic Bay colony. In 1637, Hutchison was tried for religious heresy. However, it is worth noting that the real issue was not her “heretic” teachings but rather her defiance of gender roles. The religious leaders perceived her as a threat because she presumed authority over men in her preaching. Notably, this was in the era when men ruled, and women remained silent and submissive to men’s ruling. When Hutchison asserted her right to preach, the Puritan leadership was resentful that she dared to overstep her position in society as a woman. They feared that she would inspire other women to become rebellious. In the trial, it was stated that Hutchison had instead been a husband than a wife, a preacher than a midwife, and a magistrate than a subject. This statement shows that the Puritan leadership had an issue with her position in the society more than they had with the content of her preaching.
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In her trial, Hutchison told the court that she had received a direct revelation from God that she could interpret the scriptures. This claim sealed her fate as the ministers who were against her preaching used the assertion to prove their accusations of Hutchinson being heretic. Hutchison might have said that in an attempt to assert her rights to interpret the scriptures and preach, it was a miscalculated move. She provided the court with the arsenal it needed to excommunicate and banish her from the Bay colony. Nonetheless, this is not to say that what Hutchison preached was a heretic. She challenged Puritan beliefs that seemed contrary to what the Bible taught. For instance, she preached that heaven was attainable to everyone as long as they developed a personal relationship with God. Indeed, this is integral to the New Testament’s teaching. The New Testament emphasizes that God is forgiving and that heaven is attainable to everyone who believes in God and acts in accordance with His teachings. Therefore, in conclusion, Anne Hutchison was a guardian of religious history and not a heretic teacher as the Puritan leadership portrayed her.
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