Isabella Beecher Hooker: Suffragist Principles and Convictions

0
665

A look into Isabella Beecher Hooker’s principles and convictions, what her goals were as a suffragist and the ultimate conclusion of her life.

The Beecher Legacy

The Beecher family bequeathed a legacy of unrelenting conviction, a strong moral dedication to the principles that they perceived as just and essential to a true democracy, and an unyielding belief that social changes could be initiated through the continuous efforts of an enlightened nation. Isabella Beecher Hooker (1822-1907) exemplified these characteristics that made the Beechers a unique and prominent family in Connecticut. However, the youngest daughter in the Beecher household has remained an insignificant part of history in comparison to her famous siblings, Catherine E. Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Isabella Beecher Hooker was a woman who dedicated her life to the establishment of legal equality for women in the United States, not only in respect to suffrage, but also in regard to educational matters and property rights. Her accomplishments include founding the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association and writing numerous articles, letters and books on her opinions surrounding the subjugation of women, as well as working with her husband John Hooker to pass laws in favor of women’s rights. She was a woman who recognized at a young age the injustices that women faced and was prepared to fight a country that, riddled with discrimination, had denied them their inalienable rights. She was able to overcome the stereotypes of her era and the generations prior. Isabella Beecher Hooker shaped the women’s suffrage movement by providing a unique perspective on the women’s movement, which provided an American blend of domestic feminism, patriotism and nativism. Her efforts as a suffragist make a path for future suffragists and led to the eventual passing of the nineteenth amendment.

Isabella Beecher’s Suffrage Principles and Convictions

After Isabella’s celebrated arrival into the public sphere, before long she began sharing her opinions and starting a discourse with her contemporaries. John Stuart Mill sent Isabella a copy of his new book, The Subjection of Women, where he acknowledged his wife’s prominent role and intellectual leadership, but Isabella was concerned with the moral advantage she believed women held due to their nature to conceive and bear children. She had a strong belief that a mother was the individual responsible to uphold moral excellence and in confidence she shared with Mill her fear of the great power that women were on the verge of grasping, due to the just utilization of such power.

Amongst feminists, Isabella’s view that women and men had intellectual differences or inequalities due to inequalities in their educations, rather than the popular view that women were inherently superior to men, became celebrated. Isabella shared more conservative viewpoints, like that of her sister Catherine, rather than agreements with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who considered marriage and motherhood to be mere incidents of a woman’s existence. Isabella regarded motherhood as a central fact of womanhood. However, she differed from her sister in the belief that a woman’s professional expertise as a mother and wife made her qualified to enter into the affairs of civil government. In Ailen Kraditor’s book Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920, Isabella’s viewpoints were in line with an analogy between housekeeping in the private sphere of the home and in relation to the public sphere, or government, which was seen as ‘enlarged housekeeping’.

Isabella soon changed her sights to the infamous Victoria Claflin Woodhull, a highly controversial figure who got joy out of shocking her audiences by advocating for changes in divorce and custody laws, as well as denouncing marriage and urging women to take lovers. Hooker and Anthony went on to invite Woodhull to speak on the platform with them during their suffrage conventions. Isabella delivered her own forceful speech to congressmen who sought to restrict and deny the expansion of the suffrage movement. She focused on the premise that personal responsibilities as well as personal liberty were God-given, rather than deemed rights by any man or woman for that matter. She even transitioned from her original nativist point of view by claiming that even foreign born men had a right to the vote. She urged the congressmen that they would not be silenced and would not disappear gracefully into the night as they might have hoped and only when they accepted their requests would the nation truly be at rest and whole.

Isabella maintained close contact and friendship with Woodhull, even to the disliking and loathing of many of her fellow suffragists. Woodhull may have been more radical than anything that Isabella had written or preached, yet this connection seemed to be a personal protest against the sexual contradictions set forth by the society. In Isabella’s book Womanhood: Its Sanctities and Fidelities she called for sexual self-restraint on the part of men, as well as defended a woman’s right to speak out on such issues as prostitution, birth control, abortion and sex education for children.

Isabella devoted herself to this conviction that she would be the spiritual mother of her country. She felt a responsibility to concentrate her energies on this privilege given to her by God. She believed that this country had been overtaken by corruption and that it was ultimately hers and women’s responsibility to restore what the founding fathers of this country had hoped to attain.

A Final Look at Isabella Beecher Hooker and her Effect on Women’s Suffrage

Isabella Beecher Hooker suffrage related activities did not come to a halt until her death in 1907. She continued to lobby on both state and national levels, even though poor health complicated her ambitions. As early as1877, she lamented her inability to fully devote herself to the cause of suffrage work on a national level, but she was ecstatic with the Connecticut State Legislature’s passing of John Hooker’s bill, which granted taxpaying women the right to vote. In 1889, in a hearing before the Connecticut Legislature concerning Constitutional amendments, she spoke passionately to the complete eradication of the word ‘male’ in the Constitution. She worked to form clubs in many Connecticut towns focusing on women’s study of political science, in order to prepare the future generations to manage town and government affairs. Although the suffragist’s avowed goal, the ballot, would not be achieved in Isabella’s lifetime, the alliance between the suffrage movement and the forgotten Beecher sister proved to be a successful one. Isabella Beecher Hooker devoted her life to creating equality for women both in the private sphere and the public sphere, and because of her efforts women would go on to obtain new social heights within society that Isabella could only dream of.