Anna Laura Murch Hutchins was the First Lady of Berea College from 1920-1939. She was the wife of Berea’s fourth president William J. Hutchings and the mother of fifth president Dr. Francis Hutchins. Anna was born August 14, 1871 in Cleveland Ohio. She went to Cleveland Public High School, graduating in 1890. Later, she took classes at Oberlin College and graduated in 1896 from Mount Holyoke College with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
At Oberlin, she met William Hutchins. They were married August 5, 1896 in Cuyanoga County, Ohio in the same year that Hutchins became a Presbyterian minister at Bedford Church.
Their first house together was in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was here that Anna raised their three sons: Robert, William, and Francis. During their childhoods, she had taken her three young sons to the Brooklyn Public Library weekly, which ignited their love for books. Understanding the value of books, Mrs. Hutchins, even after she and her kids had moved, kept sending the latest children’s books as gift to the library.
In 1907, William Hutchins became a professor of homiletics at the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology, causing the family to move. They stayed until 1920, when William Hutchins became president of Berea College.
It was Anna’s son Francis Hutchins who in a letter wrote: “I think it is safe to say that there was never any member of the Berea College family who needed some help or token of affection who did not receive it unobtrusively from my mother.” Many other similar letters from different people in the Berea community express the contributions Mrs. Hutchins made to Berea Community. Francis Hutchins also stated in another letter: “In all ways, my mother supported my father’s work and really made it possible for him to accomplish much by her quiet assistance in a very great many ways.”
When Dr. Hutchins retired as president of the college, the family moved to Saint Louis, where he was a consultant for the Danforth Foundation for fourteen years. They later returned to Berea in 1954. Two years after her husband’s passing in 1958, Anna Hutchins died. Mrs. Elisabeth Peck, during the memorial service of Mrs. Hutchins in 1960, had described her as an “unfathomable reservoir of human courage” and someone who “carried her duties so quietly, so responsibly, so cheerfully that one hardly realized what it meant to be a campus hostess in the Big House.” There are many other letters that also highlight the graciousness of Mrs. Hutchins in her time at Berea and beyond.
“She remained in the background and yet she has influenced many decisions with the history of Berea College and its people.”
-Fred J. Burkhard in a letter to Dr. Francis Hutchins regarding Mrs. Anna Hutchins’ death.
Edited April 2023