Anne was born into a well-to-do Essex family, the Waldegraves, and her father, a county gentleman and JP, gave her a good education, including, very unusually for women, the study of law, for he said women as well as men must live under the law and should understand it. By the time she was 18, civil war had broken out between King and Parliament, and the social, political and religious ideas of the time were all being openly challenged.

She married James Docwra, of an old landed family who by 1655 had become a supporter of the new and controversial Quaker movement, then barely ten years old.

After James Docwra died in 1672, Anne moved to Cambridge where she welcomed Quakers, local or travelling, into her house. This was no easy course. The movement, begun by George Fox, was frequently attacked, for it rejected a number of current religious and social conventions. The Society of Friends (its formal name) had no priests or pastors and no liturgy. Adherents refused to pay tithes; the tenth of income, which traditionally was paid for the upkeep of the Church but which by this time, was often payable to laymen. George Fox insisted all men were equal, and no formal deference was due to any, not even the king. He instituted the pacifism that has also remained a tenet amongst the Friends.

Quakers were teaching in Cambridge from as early as 1653, when two women were condemned to a public whipping after discussing their religious views with some students. Fox himself visited in 1655 and was heckled and harried by students, but managed to hold a meeting with Friends. It was probably in that year that the Jesus Lane site was first used for meetings, though for years after, individual Quakers were subject to assault and frequently imprisoned. In 1660 the Meeting House was attacked and completely wrecked.

Anne’s first published writings date from 1682, when she issued ‘A Looking-glass for the Recorder and Justices of the peace, and Grand Juries for the Town and County of Cambridge’. In this she argued that ‘there is no law to Compel People to conform’, that there should be freedom of belief and discussion of religion should be done ‘in Truth and Righteousness’. She also strongly upheld the role of women in the Friends, to be one of active support and sometimes guidance to the men. There were differences of opinion within the early movement, but Anne supported George Fox, whom she met in London, and deplored publicly some of the divergent movements, even where her nephew was involved. She wrote a number of other pieces around both the organisational issues, and the spiritual nature of the movement. She wrote ‘I am sure I have no enmity in my Heart against any of them [churchmen], but do desire well for them: God’s love is Universal to Mankind …I heartily wish that they would understand and practise this, it would soon put an end to Differences in Religion.’

As a final gift to the Quakers of Cambridge she bequeathed her property in Jesus Lane on a thousand year lease, with other property and money to fund a graveyard. She died and was buried in Cambridge in 1710.
Anne Docwra stood out in her times for her writings and her independence ‘a spirited, intelligent, articulate, educated, and wise lady’.