Isabella Hooker

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Isabella Hooker (Beecher)

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States
Death: January 25, 1907 (84)
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States
Place of Burial: Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Rev. Lyman Beecher and Harriet Beecher
Wife of John Hooker
Mother of Alice Beecher Day; Mary Beecher Burton; Edward Hooker and Thomas Beecher Hooker
Sister of Frederick Porter Beecher; Rev. Thomas Kinnicut Beecher; Brevet Brig. Gen. James Chaplin Beecher, (USA); Frederick William Beecher and Frederick C. Beecher
Half sister of Catharine Esther Beecher; William Henry Beecher; Edward Beecher; Mary Foote Perkins; George Beecher and 4 others

Occupation: Author, leader of suffrage movement
Managed by: Ivy Jo Smith
Last Updated:

About Isabella Hooker

Author, leader of suffrage movement, member of Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame

Isabella Beecher Hooker was born on February 22, 1822 in Litchfield, Connecticut to the abolitionist Rev. Lyman Beecher and Harriet Porter Beecher.

Family Life

In 1841, she married John Hooker, a young law student whom she met at her sister Catharine's Hartford Female Seminary, and whose family had founded Hartford. The newlyweds lived in Farmington, Connecticut, for about ten years, then moved back to Hartford and bought a large sum of land. They built houses for themselves and sold lots to prominent figures of their time, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain. They had four children:

  • Thomas Beecher Hooker born & died 1842
  • Mary Beecher Hooker (15 August 1845 – 20 January 1886) married Eugene Burton
  • Alice Beecher Hooker (26 August – 21 April 1928) married John Calvin Day
  • Edward Beecher Hooker (26 February 1855 – 23 June 1927), married Martha Kilbourne 18 September 1879

Professional Life

Isabella was educated at several different schools in Hartford, Connecticut, and Cincinnati, Ohio founded by her sister Catharine.

In 1868, Isabella helped organize the New England Women's Suffrage Association, and her "Mother's Letters to a Daughter on Woman's Suffrage" was published in Putnam’s Magazine. She furthered her involvement with the suffrage movement by organizing the Connecticut Women's Suffrage Association, lobbying the Connecticut legislature for seven years in favor of a married women's property bill drafted by her husband.

In 1871, Isabella organized a convention in Washington, D.C., to present a constitutional amendment for suffrage before Congress. In 1874, she published "Womanhood: Its Sanctities and Fidelities."

Her work in later life developed into a series of “conversations,” which were originally confined to Hartford, but later extended to New York City, Boston, and elsewhere. Isabella's method consisted of the reading of a short essay, after which she illustrated the subject by familiar conversation. She was well-known at women's clubs throughout the Northeast.

Family Controversy

During her time in Washington, Isabella became involved with free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull, who would take her to spiritual gatherings where Isabella became convinced she would "lead a matriarchal government of the world."

She even took the side of Woodhull against her own family. Woodhull posted accusations towards Hooker’s half-brother, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, accusing him of committing adultery with a woman named Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of Theodore Tilton. Isabella was shunned for the rest of her life by much of her family for her actions. She was unwelcome to attend his funeral sixteen years after the publication of the accusations.

Legacy

Isabella is a member of the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, having been inducted in the inaugural class in 1994. Her memoirs are available to read on-line courtesy of a Connecticut Humanities Council-funded state history project.

Resources

Isabella Beecher Hooker was a leader, lecturer and activist in the American Suffragist movement.

Isabella Holmes Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the fifth child and second daughter of Harriet Porter and the Reverend Lyman Beecher. As her father was called to new congregations, Isabella followed him to Boston, and then Cincinnati. In Cincinnati she attended her sister Catharine's Western Female Institute. The Western Female Institute closed during the Panic of 1837, not long after Isabella's mother Harriet died. Then, at age fifteen, she returned to Connecticut for an additional year of schooling at the Hartford Female Seminary, the first school her sister Catherine had founded, but was no longer involved with.

While studying in Hartford, Isabella met John Hooker, a young lawyer from an established Connecticut family. They married in 1841, and Isabella spent most of the following twenty-five years raising their three children. John brought a reformist attitude to the marriage; just before their marriage, John made his abolitionist sympathies known. Isabella did not immediately approve of her husband's position, but she gradually converted to the anti-slavery cause. Throughout the 1850s Isabella supported the abolitionist cause, but her primary activity was motherhood. These early tendencies toward domesticity were likely an influence of her sister Catherine's philosophy. The Hooker family moved to Hartford in 1853 and purchased land with Francis and Elisabeth Gillette, which formed the first homesteads of what would become the Nook Farm Literary Colony.

Following the Civil War, Isabella carefully ventured into the divided women's movement with the unsigned "A Mother’s Letter to a Daughter on Women Suffrage", which relied on the idea that, “women would raise the moral level of politics and bring a motherly wisdom to the affairs of government." Isabella first attending a few women's rights conventions in New York and Boston, and participated in the founding of the New England Women Suffrage Association. Then, she made her intentions know to her friends and neighbors in Hartford by founding the Connecticut Women Association and Society for the Study of Political Science. Isabella followed this up with a petition to the Connecticut General Assembly. With the legal aid of her husband, she wrote and presented a bill that provided married women with property rights. The bill was rejected, but she reintroduced it every year until it passed in 1877.

By 1870, Isabella Beecher Hooker was in the full swing of the suffragist movement traveling throughout the mid-west on her first speaking tour. This first of many tours was in preparation for the 1871 Washington convention on suffrage, which focused on just suffrage alone, not women's rights in general. Isabella thought that by building the convention around one issue, she could re-unite the divided women's movement. Isabella set the agenda by describing the situation as she saw it, a view in which the constitution provided women with citizenship, and congress only needed to recognize this fact for women suffrage to be a done deal. This convention got the women's movement in the congressional door, for the first time Congress responded to the women activists with a hearing. Victoria Woodhull led the presentation to the House Judiciary Committee, and Isabella followed; they both presented the convention's argument.

Isabella maintained the constitutional argument for most of the 1870s and used it for the many additional times she spoke before the House Judiciary Committee. Isabella believed this argument partly because she thought it would be too difficult to get a constitutional amendment passed. However, most of the congressmen rejected the suffragists' notions, and contended that Congress could not intervene in voter eligibility. However, Isabella felt so strongly that women could already technically vote, that she and other woman activists tried to vote in the election of 1872; while Susan Anthony succeeded, and was arrested, Isabella was unable to penetrate the security at the polling station.

By the mid-1880s Isabella advocated the more common position that women should vote because they would bring a new level of dignity to politics. Along with her drift in strategy, Isabella Hooker was campaigning for women’s rights in general, instead of focusing on suffrage alone. During 1887, Isabella spoke on the need for women to have greater roles in society, including the benefits of female police officers. She digressed on a campaign for police reform than included complete reorganization of New York City’s police department, with a woman as superintendent; for this she was mocked by the New York World and the Chicago Tribune.

While Isabella Hooker was derided in New York and Chicago, she had enough national stature that her speaking tours were regularly reported. Furthermore, she gained respect in Hartford, where The Hartford Courant published her lectures from around the country and her congressional addresses. As she wound down her travels she was able to use this avenue to continue her advocacy. By the turn of the century she journeyed less frequently to speak, but maintained her activity by writing letters, and her annual presentation of a voting bill to the Connecticut General Assembly. She made one last appearance before Congress in 1893, where she persuaded various senators to endorse a limited suffrage proposal. Isabella's last appearance before the General Assembly to present the voting bill was in 1901.

Isabella Beecher Hooker was at the side of her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe when she died at her Hartford home in 1896. Hooker was crippled by a stroke on January 13, 1907, and died twelve days later. While she died more than a decade before the nineteenth amendment was ratified, her participation in the women’s movement saw it transformed from a fringe group to the respectable lobby that succeeded in 1920. Within her native state of Connecticut Isabella Hooker contributed primary in her advocacy for women’s property rights, which passed into law in 1877.

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Isabella Hooker's Timeline

1822
February 22, 1822
Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States
1842
1842
Age 19
1845
August 15, 1845
Age 23
1847
August 26, 1847
Age 25
Farmington, CT, United States
1907
January 25, 1907
Age 84
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States
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Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States