Anne Hutchinson has become a major figure in the history of American feminism as a forceful symbol of women’s role and women’s theology in the churches of America. The complexity of Anne Hutchinson’s ordeal, however, calls for a far greater inspection of her nine years of life in the colonies, as well as the history of the Puritan faith. The Puritan leaders of Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the banishment of Anne Hutchinson in 1637. The Boston Court officially charged Anne Hutchinson with heresy and criticizing the ministers and their ministry. Anne Hutchinson was persecuted overzealously because of the threat that her actions and views presented to the harmony and stability of the colonial Puritan settlement. She had openly criticized many of the colony’s ministers and said things that they saw as dangerous. She also discussed her views with women and later men who gathered at her home to talk about the sermon of that particular week. To Anne Hutchinson, a truly Christian society had to be based upon the idea of the priesthood of all believers, and the stale had to permit the existence of a united church of Christ rooted in a mystical fellowship of those who shared the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
The Christian fellowship for her did not distinguish between males and females, rich and poor, and it knew no narrow sectarian or nationalistic covenant with God. Hutchinson also considered John Winthrop and such ministers mistaken in believing that membership in God’s church could be discerned by fallible human eyes and measured by the appearances of piety, honesty, and morality. Hutchinson was convinced that God worked in many ways not knowable by man or measurable by outward behavior or professions. Studies have noted that her banishment was meant to indicate to conservative Puritans in Old England that the New England Puritans were able to use their middle way of church-state relations to control fanaticism without bishops, church, courts, and a King who was the head of the church. In addition, the banishing of Anne Hutchinson made her a cautionary or monitory figure to other women who might assume the right to venture out of their proper sphere. Winthrop in his opening remarks told Anne Hutchinson that her actions were prejudiced to the churches and the ministers; she was also guilty of holding meetings that were not appropriate in the sight of God and not suitable as she was a woman. He spoke of how she could become a ‘profitable member’ if she realized her mistakes. Women and children, as might be expected, were treated extremely harshly by the Puritan commonwealth. Women were viewed as instruments of Satan by the Puritans. If the United States is not a Christian nation, it is one clearly formed upon Judeo-Christian principles. In this respect, for better or worse, we owe a major debt to the Puritans. John Winthrop, the leading figure in the Bay Colony, is still cited by Presidents.
Analyzing the Puritans’ quarrel with Anne Hutchinson can give us a better understanding of the founding of the American civilization and how that quarrel gave it shape. It can also help us to see more clearly who Anne Hutchinson was and what she and John Winthrop represented both for their times and for ours. Her actions help us to comprehend more clearly the vital religious, social, and feminist crossroads in the present times. It may not be true that Anne Hutchinson was consciously trying to empower women-that is, to give them a special or equal role in the church because of their gender. In fact, at her trial, she made a point of stressing that she never taught theology at the meetings in her home when the men had attended. Nevertheless, her behavior demonstrated her belief that God’s message could and should be defended by the women as well as by men when it was being distorted, and that the women could minister to fundamental human concerns in spiritual affairs as effectively as men could. Anne is now cited as an example of what is necessary today if the Christian churches are to become relevant again in modern society.