The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker
Publication Year: 2014
Isabella was an ardent Spiritualist. In daily life, she could be off-putting, perplexing, tenacious, charming. Many found her daunting to get to know and stay on comfortable terms with. Her “wild streak” was especially unfavorable in the eyes of Hartford society at the time, which valued restraint and duty. In her latest book, Susan Campbell brings her own unique blend of empathy and unbridled humor to the story of Harriet’s younger half-sister. Tempest Tossed reveals Isabella’s evolution from orthodox Calvinist daughter, wife, and mother, to one of the most influential players in the movement for women’s suffrage, where this unforgettable woman finally gets her proper due.
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
Series: Garnet Books
Title Page, Copyright Page
Preface: Why a book about Isabella Beecher Hooker?
There it is, on page 57 of Connecticut Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff, a book I cowrote with my friend Bill Heald some time back. Curiosities was a book about the interesting and weird things in Connecticut — a state not known for its frivolity — and that thin...
1. The World That Awaited Belle
Understanding Isabella Beecher Hooker means first understanding her family — the large, dynamic New England Beecher clan. Isabella was born in 1822, the first child of her father’s second wife, with eight older half-siblings to welcome her. Her father was the noted early American minister Lyman...
2. Training to Be a Beecher
Childbirth in early America was a dangerous thing. Women gave birth anywhere from five to eight times, and a new mother’s chance of dying during the process was between 1 and 1.5 percent. Extrapolating for the non–math majors, that meant a woman’s chances of dying over the course...
3. The Education of Isabella Beecher
Despite his wife’s frailties, in the early 1830s the ever-restless Lyman Beecher began to look west, toward Cincinnati, an outpost that had been settled mostly by New Englanders. In what was then the Far West, men like Lyman Beecher “had ample opportunity to fit shoes of virtue on the clay feet of...
4. Isabella in Love
In the mid-1830s, Hartford was on the cusp of its glory days. The town was shifting from an economy built on oceangoing commerce to banking, manufacturing, merchandising, and publishing. The railroad would come to Hartford in 1839, and the population would reach 12,793 in 1840, up from...
5. Isabella Marries, and Faces a Conundrum
And here we pause to ponder all the women through all the years who have questioned the role of marriage in society, and wondered if the institution was quite for them. Can you blame Isabella, really, for hesitating to take that fine Beecher brain into a legal contract — the last one she’d ever sign — that to her was...
6. Motherhood, and Confusion
We are standing at the carport — a later addition — of the Hooker mansion in Hartford, which is just off I-84, which runs east to west through Connecticut, effectively cutting the state in half. You wouldn’t know it from looking, but this brick home with the peeling white Gothic windows was once the center of Nook Farm, a storied neighborhood...
7. Abolition, and an Awakening
At the dawn of the new decade, Isabella had a bloomer outfit sewn for her walks on her trips away from home. Such a wardrobe choice might seem inconsequential, but in the 1860s the bloomer (named for Amelia Bloomer, a suffragist who made the outfit notorious in the 1850s by wearing it in public)...
8. A Woman’s Worth, a Brother’s Shame
In January 1870, Isabella revealed in The Revolution that she intended to “preach Christ and his dear gospel to 5,000 people every week.”1 This was a decidedly new tack for The Revolution, and may have been an indication of how much Stanton, in particular, wanted the Beecher name attached to the...
9. A Spiritual Digression
If you watch Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln closely, you’ll see Daniel Day- Lewis, playing the president, lose his cool with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Sally Field. She has chastised him for allowing their son Robert to enlist in the Union’s cause — something they’ve both resisted — and he tosses...
10. In the Thick of It
The new decade had to come as something of a relief to Isabella. The 1870s saw her emerge from the private, constricted, and culturally approved female sphere, though at great cost. After the Beecher-Tilton scandal, two of her sisters were not speaking to her. Her brother Henry Ward was still in...
11. The Elusive Ballot
After years of animosity, in February 1890 the two factions of the women’s suffrage movement reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Anthony helped with the merger, and Stanton served as the first president of the group until 1892, when Anthony succeeded her until...
12. The End, and a Legacy
This is a sad chapter. It is sad not only because the life of this complicated and interesting woman was nearing its end but also because she was leaving this world without fulfilling her most fervent wish, to cast a vote. The hordes of women similarly disenfranchised must gather somewhere in the...