Who Was Isabella Beecher Hooker?

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A look at the life of suffragette Isabella Beecher Hooker, daughter of Lyman Beecher and his second wife Harriet Porter Beecher.

Isabella Beecher, the fourth daughter and ninth child of Lyman Beecher, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1822, and died in Hartford, Connecticut in 1907, leaving behind a legacy of years of involvement in women’s rights and domestic freedoms.

Hartford Female Seminary and Isabella Beecher Hooker

The young Isabella was schooled in various places until at the age of fifteen she was sent to her sister Catharine’s Hartford Female Seminary to study. John Hooker, a clerk in her brother-in-laws law office, was a descendant of Thomas Hooker, the founder of the state of Connecticut and the author of the world’s frst written constitution, and he and Isabella soon found much to talk about.

They married in 1841, when Isabella was a budding young beauty of nineteen, and they studied the law and literature together while he waited for clients to turn up at his office in Farmington, Connecticut. While reading Blackstone, who stated that “By marriage the husband and wife are one person in law, that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or, at least, is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband under whose wing protection and cover she performs everything…”

Isabella became indignant and asked John, “Is that the justice which your Law furnishes to us women?…” From that time on she vowed to remedy this gross miscarriage of justice.

Suffragettes and Isabella Beecher Hooker

After the birth of two daughters and a son, the Hookers moved to Hartford where John became a partner in a law firm with Joseph R.Hawley, who would later become a United States Senator. Isabella became involved in working for the suffrage cause and with a few other people founded the New England Women Suffrage Association. Through this organization she met activists Paulina Wright Davis, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison and Caroline Severance.

Some time later she wrote “A Mother’s Letters to a Daughter on Woman’s Suffrage,” and in later years established “The Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association and Society for the Study of Political Science.”

National Convention to Recognize Women as Voters and Isabella Beecher Hooker

In 1871, Isabella spent her own money to organize a national convention “for the purpose of calling the attention of Congress to the fact that women were already citizens of the United States under the Constitution, interpreted by the Declaration of Independen, and only needed recognition, by that body, to become voters.” She was ultimately invited to address the Senate Committee on the Judiciary of the United States.

Because of her vehement proclamations in favour of women and the vote, she was treated shabbily by the less progressive folk in Hartford. However, she was called “the soundest constitutional lawyer in the country,” by Susan B.Anthony, and Senator Charles Sumner said that her argument before the Senate committee was “able, lucid and powerful.”

In her later years Isabella turned to spiritualism and was often in contact with her mother, Harriet. She wrote one book, Womanhood: Its Sanctities and Fidelities. Although she had fallen away from the Calvinistic teachings of her father, Isabella felt herself ‘commisioned of God,’ to work to carry out His will. Her motto was: “The world is my country; to do good is my religion.”

Sources:

  1. Saints, Sinners and Beechers, The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, Indianapolis, 1934
  2. “Love Divine: The Life of Henry Ward Beecher,” by Anya Laurence, iUniverse Publishing, 2006