The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans
By Eve Laplante
HarperOne, Hardcover, 9780060562335, 336pp.
Publication Date: March 1, 2004
Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six- year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner "not comely for her] sex."
Until now, Hutchinson has been a polarizing figure in American history and letters, attracting either disdain or exaltation. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was haunted by the "sainted" Hutchinson, used her as a model for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Much of the praise for her, however, is muted by a wish to domesticate the heroine: the bronze statue of Hutchinson at the Massachusetts State House depicts a prayerful mother -- eyes raised to heaven, a child at her side -- rather than a woman of power standing alone before humanity and God. Her detractors, starting with her neighbor John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, referred to her as "the instrument of Satan," the new Eve, the "disturber of Israel," a witch, "more bold than a man," and Jezebel -- the ancient Israeli queen who, on account of her tremendous political power, was "the most evil woman" in the Bible.
Written by one of Hutchinson's direct descendants, American Jezebel brings both balance and perspective to Hutchinson's story. It captures this American heroine's life in all its complexity, presenting her not as a religious fanatic, a cardboard feminist, or a raging crank -- as some have portrayed her -- but as a flesh-and-blood wife, mother, theologian, and political leader.
Opening in a colonial courtroom, American Jezebel moves back in time to Hutchinson's childhood in Elizabethan England, exploring intimate details of her marriage and family life. The book narrates her dramatic expulsion from Massachusetts, after which her judges, still threatened by her challenges, promptly built Harvard College to enforce religious and social orthodoxies -- making her midwife to the nation's first college. In exile, she settled Rhode Island (which later merged with Roger Williams's Providence Plantation), becoming the only woman ever to co-found an American colony.
The seeds of the American struggle for women's and human rights can be found in the story of this one woman's courageous life. American Jezebel illuminates the origins of our modern concepts of religious freedom, equal rights, and free speech, and showcases an extraordinary woman whose achievements are astonishing by the standards of any era.
“A powerful and fascinating book that deserves wide reading.”
“[F]ascinating...engaging...What LaPlante has reconstructed here supplies a welcome new podium for a brave Puritan theologian....”
-Christian Science Monitor
“[A] powerful biography of a woman who refused to still her voice.”
-Dallas Morning News
“The most full-scale biography of Hutchinson to date, and a readable, useful account of the challenges women faced...diligently researched and well-crafted.”
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] well-researched account...LaPlante paints a fascinating portrait...[and] deftly depicts the gritty world of colonial New England.”
“Fast-paced and elegant...LaPlante’s first-rate biography offers glimpses into the life and teachings of a much-neglected figure.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[LaPlante] makes her kinswoman’s fate into a riveting drama...an enthralling narrative.”
---The New York Sun
“[t]he most significant woman in pre-Revolutionary America...rescued from obscurity and re-introduced to 21st Century America.”
-Peter J. Gomes, author of The Good Life
““Remarkably successful... traces the vein of an ongoing ambivalence about powerful public women in America... particularly good on the sexual mores of the Puritans...”
---Laura Miller, salon.com
“[a] spirited biography of Anne Hutchinson… LaPlante’s rendering suggests how deeply resonant that history remains.”
---Leigh E. Schmidt, Princeton University
“American Jezebel is stunning book, exquisitely written, it fills in a crucial piece of American history.”
---Carol Gilligan, author of In A Different Voice and The Birth of Pleasure
“A vivid account, full of surprising twists and turns...richly documented....”
--- Susan Quinn, author of Marie Curie: A Life and A Mind of Her Own: A Life of Karen Horney
“[Hutcinson’s] legacy lives on, and American Jezebel comes as a timely reminder of the causes she held dear:”
“A new biography well worth reading... Anne Hutchinson is among the most-neglected, most important figures in United States history.”
---Nick Gillespie, Reason Magazine
“[Hutchinson’s] crime and her trial are skillfully recounted....[a] satisfying history.”
---Providence Journal Book Review
“This book is New England history at its best....it carries with it a message for today as well.”.”
---Michael Dukakis, former Governor of Massachusetts
“What true heroes can I tell my students about? …read LaPlante’s biography to make [Hutchinson] and her courage come alive.”
---Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
“...charming exploration of the life and times of Anne Hutchinson....A personal and appreciative tribute.”
---Edwin Gaustad, author (with Leigh E. Schmidt) of A Religious History of America