This week esteemed Supreme Court Justice #RuthBaderGinsburg was laid to rest. Hester Prynne, a character in Jane Eyre Gets Real, was led to think of Puritan feminist and free thinker, Ann Hutchinson. The Scarlet Letter takes place several years after Hutchinson’s death and contains a notable passage in her honor; in describing roses outside the prison door where Hester will emerge, Hawthorne says they might have “sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison.” Fiery women, such as Hester, Ann–and centuries later, Ruth–bring forth fiery blooms.
Daughter of a dissident minister, Ann was born in Alford, United Kingdom, in July 1591. Shortly after her arrival in Boston in the 1630s, Hutchinson, by then a wife and mother, began preaching against the Church of England. (Incidentally, she felt it had become too lax, in allowing the possibility the soul might be saved by good works rather than the grace of God; make of that what you will.) Hutchinson’s preaching took place in her own home, after church; she would open the windows and let her voice waft out, sometimes attracting a third of Boston. Ultimately she was taken to trial on charges of heresy, where she spoke in her own defense. Found guilty–in spite of being noted for her wit and eloquence, or perhaps because of it–she was banished from the colony.
What became of Ann Hutchinson? As part of a destiny that made Hester’s pale by comparison, she went on to found a new community in Rhode Island, only to be attacked and killed in a Native American raid (1643). She was survived by one daughter, nine-year-old Susanna, who was taken captive. Susanna, resilient as Hester’s Pearl, was later traded back to the English, and at the age of 18 married John Cole, the son of a Boston innkeeper. So she returned to make a home in the place of her mother’s former banishment.