Anna Rochester (1880-1966) and Grace Hutchins (1885-1969) were members of an early generation of affluent, well-educated women who did not need husbands for support and were able to establish long-term, loving relationships at the same time that they became leading figures in the world of social reform. In New York, similar prominent couples included Lillian Wald and Mabel Hyde Kittredge, Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, Elisabeth Irwin and Katharine Anthony, Elisabeth Marbury and Elsie de Wolfe, and Mary Dewson and Polly Porter. Greenwich Village was an especially welcoming neighborhood for these couples. Rochester and Hutchins moved into a third-floor apartment in the co-op at 85 Bedford Street in 1924 and remained there until their deaths.
Rochester and Hutchins were both reared in upper-middle-class households, attended Bryn Mawr College, and became involved in social reform through the Episcopal Church. They met in 1919 at a retreat for the Episcopal laywomen’s organization, The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. The couple moved from Christian social activism, to socialism, and then to membership in the Communist Party, following a 1927 visit to the Soviet Union. They remained active members of the party for the rest of their lives. Rochester and Hutchins were deeply involved in efforts to improve labor conditions, especially for women, with a special interest in conditions for African-American women. Each wrote extensively about injustice, racism, and the problems of American capitalism. They were founders of the Labor Research Association, an independent organization allied with the Communist Party. Hutchins wrote the association’s biannual Labor Fact Book, a well-regarded collection of labor statistics that were used to further pro-labor advocacy. During the post-war anti-communist witch hunts, Hutchins, in particular, used her fortune to post bail for party members who had been arrested.
“Framed by privileges of race and class, they enjoyed a financial security and independence that allowed them to eschew marriage and share a life together. From this relatively secure base, Hutchins and Rochester were able to commit their lives to social and economic change, use their wealth to support their causes, and embark on an ideological journey from Christianity to Communism.”
Rochester, Hutchins, and their peers in same-sex female relationships would not have referred to themselves as lesbians, a term that was generally used, at the time that they met, to refer to what some viewed as socially unacceptable and immoral activities. Although active Communists, Rochester and Hutchins saw themselves as highly respectable women. Even when the Communist Party USA purged homosexuals from its ranks, Rochester and Hutchins remained, as they did not see themselves in this light. Yet, they had a loving relationship of over forty years, writing intimate letters to each other, referring to each other as “partner,” and often professing their love. Their relationship was, as Julia Allen notes, “the foundation from which they would help to create a new world.”