Early US Literature

Home » Annotated Bibliography » A Gender Studies Approach to the Life and Trial of Anne Hutchinson

A Gender Studies Approach to the Life and Trial of Anne Hutchinson


This bibliography focuses on a small sampling of the critical works analyzing the trial of Anne Hutchinson in 1637.  Specifically, these works will look at the Hutchinson trial and Antinomian literature with a gender studies and feminist slant, looking at how gender played a role in these historical events.

Barker-Benfield, Ben.  “Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Attitude toward Women.” Feminist Studies 1.2 (1972): 65-96.  JSTOR.  Web.  21 July 2013.

Barker-Benfield takes an interesting approach to looking at the relationships among men, women, and God in this article.  This writer suggests that, despite the Puritan opposition to hierarchies within the established church, gendered attitudes toward men and women established unofficial tiers of power by establishing that one gender is more apt than another to receive divine wisdom from God.  This was because one gender held almost all of the positions of leadership within a community – church leaders, teachers, politicians, etc. – while the other gender was less apt to receive the same divine wisdom from God.  Because of the other gender’s incapacity to have a direct relationship with God, Barker-Benfield argues that this lead them to become rebels and allow this rebelliousness to be reproduced within families and break down the family unit.

This article also looks at the similarities between Hutchinson’s story and the story of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter.  Barker-Benfield, in describing accounts of the two women’s lives, looks at how Hawthorne takes Hutchinson’s life story and, through Hester Prynne, creates a female character that, along with her religious leader Arthur Dimmesdale, take to task the Puritanical attitudes regarding gender and power as perceived by Hawthorne.

Kaufmann, Michael W. “Post-secular Puritans: Recent Retrials of Anne Hutchinson.” Early American Literature 45.1 (2010): 31-59. Project MUSE. Web. 23 July 2013.

Kaufmann’s article takes a look at more recent developments in the study of Hutchinson’s life and works that have been published since the 1970s and 1980s.  Additionally, Kaufmann argues that there are certain cultural parameters, such as religion, that should be worked back into Hutchinson scholarship, especially in relation to the prevailing dichotomies that have been previously studied in relation to this particular Puritan figure and within Puritan studies in general.  This is to encourage Puritan scholarship to follow trends in the field of literary studies to incorporate religious considerations back into academic work.  After all, writes Kaufmann, the Puritans were both a religious and cultural group, so this is nothing more than a logical move to make.

Kaufmann also argues that Puritan studies should follow prevailing scholarly trends and make a return to incorporating religion in academic study.  Interestingly, Kaufmann describes the religious literary studies, placed among several other sub-disciplines within the cultural studies field, is an interesting gray zone for Puritan scholars because of the influence religion had on this particular group of people, their literature, and the discourses in which they engage.

Scheick, William J.  “Literature to 1800.”  American Literary Scholarship (2004): 223-240.  Project MUSE.  Web.  23 July 2013.

This literature review, which encompasses a wide variety of early American writers and historical figures, has a pretty significant portion devoted not only to Puritan women, but particularly to Hutchinson.  Many of the scholarly texts mentioned look at Hutchinson and the works regarding her trial from a variety of approaches, but also take others within her community, such as John Cotton, to task on their remarks during Hutchinson’s trial, and whether or not these figures surrounding Hutchinson really understood the ramifications of their words and arguments.

Scheick’s literature review gives a compact scope of the scholarship there is regarding Puritan and colonial women while still giving due justice to many different fields within literary studies.  His analysis of each source is rather brief, but also tries to give the reader an idea of what distinguishes each of the pieces in question from other scholarship in the field without taking too much space.  This review also discusses literature of first encounters, women of the Southern colonies, and other important figures in pre-1800 American literature.  The works Scheick describes may be useful for scholars or students looking to make connections across historical time periods or geographic locations and need suggestions as to what literature is available on a range of early American writers.

Toulouse, Teresa. “Where Do We Go from Here?: Early American Women and the End(s) of Feminist Critique.” Early American Literature 44.1 (2009): 195-213.Project MUSE. Web. 23 Jul. 2013.

Toulouse’s article provides an extensive review of past literature created focusing on feminism and early American and early modern literature.  The rationale behind this argument was an article in The New York Times discussing a shift in the attitudes of academics in the past couple of decades, from passionate politicized work to scholarship that is more focused on data and statistics.  Because of this, Toulouse argues, there is a shift away from feminism as a field of literary study and gravitating toward empirically-driven forms of study.

Toulouse also looks at male representations of women and women writers in these various forms of early literature.  In a somewhat complicated way, Toulouse concludes that it is possible for both theoretically-based feminist scholars can also work in conjunction with the new generation of literature academics to provide a new insight into how women and literacy function both within these early texts and how gender relations may have impacted the literacy of women of the time.  Toulouse argues that, by combining both the traditional, theory-based literary research with this surge in scholar working with empirical data, we can better study women of early American literature and better understand how literacy, women, and society all interacted.

Westerkamp, Marilyn J.  “Anne Hutchinson, Sectarian Mysticism, and the Puritan Order.”  Church History 59.4 (1990): 482-496.  JSTOR.  Web.  21 July 2013.

Westerkamp’s article takes a look at various interpretations of Anne Hutchinson’s fame in the scholarly community, which she describes as being close to that of a celebrity.  According to Westerkamp, Hutchinson enjoyed a certain fame during her life because both men and women liked her regardless of her alleged wrongdoings in the eyes of the church.  This article describes the current scholarship portraying Hutchinson as being anywhere from a threat to political stability to a social deviant to a rebel.  All of these roles and portrayals, Westerkamp argues, undermined the prevailing social order.

Westerkamp’s take on the various biographies and pieces of scholarship surrounding Hutchinson is interesting to consider in light of other scholarship representing her as being one type or another.  The author’s analysis of Hutchinson’s responses to Winthrop and others during her trial give a different perspective on how the Puritans viewed the worth of the individual, something Westerkamp also briefly looks at in her argument.  From a feminist perspective, Westerkamp cites Withington and Schwartz’s research regarding the political nature of the trial, and whether or not Hutchinson’s trial was actually held to decide her innocence or to display who within the community was the source of political, social, and religious power.

Withington, Ann Fairfax and Jack Schwartz.  “The Political Trial of Anne Hutchinson.”The New England Quarterly 51.2 (1978): 226-240.  JSTOR.  Web.  21 July 2013.

Withington and Schwartz’s article serves two purposes.  First, this article engages the debate as to whether or not Hutchinson was actually an Antinomian.  These writers argue that we cannot ascertain what Hutchinson’s religious and political persuasion was during this crisis because she never wrote her opinions down.  Additionally, Withington and Schwartz write that some historians who have tried to label Hutchinson as belonging to one side of the crisis or another are doing so incorrectly as they are interpreting the Antinomian period using cultural values that did not exist at the time of Hutchinson’s trial.

The other function of this article is looking at Hutchinson’s testimony at her trial in terms of what the authors call “primitive feminism.”  Withington and Schwartz, in looking at various assessments of Hutchinson’s actions throughout her trial, argue that scholars and readers cannot simply look at Hutchinson’s testimony as an early form of feminism because it defied the male-established status quo.  Instead, Withington and Schwartz argue, in a downplayed but important part of this piece, that we must not simply jump to a feminist justification in this case, but also consider other reasons for Hutchinson’s testimony.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: