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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Mary Dyer

b. circa 1611, probably Somersetshire, England; d. 1660, Boston

Mary Dyer emigrated from England to Boston with her husband around 1635. Her third child was still-born and badly defomed in a breech birth, an event that acquired public significance in 1638 during the trial of her friend and midwife, the religious dissenter Anne Hutchinson. The governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the baby’s body exhumed, and Mary was accused of having given birth to a bestial creature, half-bird, half-fish. Hutchinson was banished and the Dyers escaped Puritan persecution by helping her found a colony in Rhode Island. By 1652, the Dyers had returned to England, where Mary became a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). In 1657, she sailed for New England to work as a missionary in the face of severe anti-Quaker laws. Expelled from New Haven and Boston, under threat of execution if she returned, Mary remained undeterred. She was back in Boston a few weeks later and saved from the gallows in a dramatic last-minute reprieve. Banished again, she returned again, for the last time. She was publicly hanged on June 1, 1660.