Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Richard C. Moreland


This dissertation approaches Anne Hutchinson's trial transcripts (1637-1638), Anne Bradstreet's "To My Dear Children" (1656), and Mary Rowlandson's "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson" (1682) from the perspectives of autobiographical scholarship and feminist theory. It places these writers within a subversive matrilineal autobiographical tradition. It analyzes how seventeenth-century American Puritan women engender the conversion genre, which many scholars have assumed to be gender-neutral. In particular, it considers how Hutchinson, Bradstreet, and Rowlandson negotiate cultural inscriptions of the female body as they construct subjectivities and assert spiritual authority within hegemonic religious discourse. This dissertation traces a progression in these writers' resistances to Puritanism's construction of women as embodied others. Hutchinson refuses the body as a founding identification of her subjectivity, privileging spirit over flesh and retreating into inner mystical experience. Bradstreet parallels flesh and spirit, equating her autobiographical act and her assertion of spiritual authority to childbirth. Thus, she re-writes the maternal body, culturally constructed as the source of the soul's fleshly nature, as a transmitter of grace. Finally, Rowlandson foregrounds the culturally inscribed abject female body in her descriptions of her transgressive eating and in her colonialist representations of Native American women, to whom she unconsciously compares herself. Her narrative destabilizes the rationalist model of conversion on which the Puritan theocracy relied for the consolidation of control and the enforcement of cultural cohesion.