Today in History: July 20
Although her exact birth date is uncertain, on July 20, 1591, the infant Anne Marbury was baptized in Alford, Lincolnshire, England.1 The first female religious leader among North America's early European settlers, Anne Marbury Hutchinson was the daughter of an outspoken clergyman silenced for criticizing the Church of England. Better educated than most men of the day, she spent her youth immersed in her father's library.
At twenty-one, Anne Marbury married William Hutchinson and began bearing the first of their fourteen children. The Hutchinsons became adherents of the preaching and teachings of John Cotton, a Puritan minister who left England for America. In 1634, the Hutchinson family followed Cotton to New England, where religious and political authority overlapped.
The General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony:
Revised and Reprinted,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Samuel Green, 1672.
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Section I. Part 1
Many criminal laws in the early New England colonies were based on the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Often called "Bible Commonwealths," the New England colonies sought guidance from the scriptures in regulating the lives of their citizens.
Serving as a skilled herbalist and midwife in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne Hutchinson began meeting with other women for prayer and religious discussion. Her charisma and intelligence soon also drew men, including ministers and magistrates, to her gatherings, where she developed an emphasis on the individual's relationship with God, stressing personal revelation over institutionalized observances and absolute reliance on God's grace rather than on good works as the means to salvation. Hutchinson's views challenged religious orthodoxy, while her growing power as a female spiritual leader threatened established gender roles.
Mary Dyer Led to Execution on Boston Common,
Courtesy of The Granger Collection.
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Section I. Part 2
Like Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer was banished from Massachusetts. Eventually, she was hanged for challenging Puritan orthodoxy.
Called for a civil trial before the General Court of Massachusetts in November 1637, Hutchinson ably defended herself against charges that she had defamed the colony's ministers and as a woman had dared to teach men. Her extensive knowledge of Scripture, her eloquence, and her intelligence allowed Hutchinson to debate with more skill than her accusers. Yet because Hutchinson claimed direct revelation
from God and argued that "laws, commands, rules, and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway," she was convicted and banished from the colony, a sentence confirmed along with formal excommunication in the ecclesiastical trial that followed.
Refusing to recant, Hutchinson accepted exile and in 1638 migrated with her family to Roger Williams' new colony of Rhode Island, where she helped found the town of Portsmouth. After her husband died in 1642, Hutchinson moved to Dutch territory near Long Island Sound (an area now known as Co-op City, along New York's Hutchinson River Parkway, which is named for Anne Hutchinson). There in 1643 Hutchinson and all but one of her younger children were killed by Siwanoy Indians, possibly with the encouragement of Puritan authorities. "Proud Jezebel has at last been cast down," was the supposed comment of Hutchinson's nemesis, Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop.
Learn more about early America in American Memory:
- Many British North American colonies were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women who fled Europe rather than compromise passionately-held religious convictions. See the Library of Congress' online exhibition Religion and the Founding of the American Republic. The first section of the exhibition, America as a Religious Refuge: the Seventeenth Century, provides insight into the lives of the Puritans and others who created the "Bible Commonwealths."
- American Treasures of the Library of Congress includes several items highlighting the early history of Massachusetts, including "America's first book", printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the first complete Bible printed in America, published in Cambridge in 1663; the "General Fundamentals" of the Plymouth Colony; and the eighteenth-century poetry of Phillis Wheatley.
- Read Today in History features on John Smith, William Penn, Roger Williams, and the Salem Witch trials for relevant background on the early American colonies.
The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source…
Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
"Address Delivered at the Seneca Falls Convention,"
July 19-20, 1848.
Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921
On July 20, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention convened for a second day. On the previous day, convention organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton had read the "Declaration of Sentiments." In the process of reviewing a list of attached resolutions, the group united across the boundaries of gender and race to demand women's right to vote in the United States.
Statues and sculpture. Suffrage leaders Mott, Anthony, and Stanton in U.S. Capitol basement,
Theodor Hordyczak, photographer,
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959
Eleven of the resolutions proposed in the "Declaration" passed unanimously and without much argument, including:
Resolved, That all laws which prevent women from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.
Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her Creator has assigned her.
Yet, the resolution calling for women's enfranchisement met with some opposition. Former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass stood with Stanton and argued forcefully for the absolute need and intrinsic value of the elective franchise for women. After intense debate among those present, the historic assembly passed all twelve of the resolutions, including the following:
Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
The "Declaration of Sentiments" was signed by 100 individuals. Although narrowly approved, passage of the suffrage resolution inaugurated seventy-two years of organized struggle for woman suffrage culminating in the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
How Long Will Women Wait For Liberty?
National Woman's Party, 1922.
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
Published just two years after women received the right to vote, this National Woman's Party (NWP) membership flyer reviews the Seneca Falls Resolutions and notes, "In 1922 all of these rights still remain to be won except the right to the franchise." Founded by Alice Paul in 1914, the NWP proposed the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) just a year after issuing this pamphlet.
Also known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, the ERA was designed to halt gender-based discrimination. Fifty years after its 1923 introduction, the ERA passed both houses of Congress. However, the amendment failed to gain ratification by three-fourths of the states by the 1982 deadline.
Then hail the day, come when it may,
As come it will, for a' that,
When woman's worth, o'er all the earth,
Shall honored be, for a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Co-equal, free, and a' that;
Through her enfranchisement our race
Shall nobly rise, for a' that!
Learn more about the Seneca Falls Convention from yesterday's Today in History feature. Then explore the following in American Memory to learn more about the woman suffrage movement:
- The "Declaration of Sentiments," resolutions, and excerpts from Stanton's address are online in The First Convention Ever Called to Discuss the Civil and Political Rights of Women available through Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. This collection documents the suffrage campaign with 167 books, pamphlets, and other artifacts gathered from the archives of National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) collection held in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
- Additional American Memory collections documenting the woman suffrage campaign include:
- American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States is simultaneously a guide, an online magnet for digitized women's history materials drawn from a plethora of Library sources, and a gateway. One section of the guide describes the Women's Suffrage collections held by the Manuscript Division.
- Enjoy William Lloyd Garrison's "supplement" to Scotsman Robert Burns poem "A Man's a Man, For A' That" (1794). Garrison's adaptation "Human Equality," in America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets, urges the cause of women's rights.
- Search the Today in History Archive on suffrage to find relevant features on leaders of the woman's rights movement such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul. View the features about men such as Frederick Douglass and Bronson Alcott who gave their support to the woman's rights movement.
- The Teachers Page offers the special presentation "Woman Pioneers in American Memory." Teachers may enjoy reviewing the Classroom Activities designed for use with the Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921 collection.
- To learn more about Seneca Falls as a historic landmark, see the National Park Service's site Women's Rights National Historical Park.