Isabella Beecher Hooker, 1822 – 1907
Isabella Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, February 22, 1822 into the famous Beecher family, which included her half-sister and author of the famous anti-slavery story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe. As a child she was educated mainly in schools run by her sister, Catherine Beecher. In 1841 she married John Hooker, and in 1851 she moved with her husband and three children to Hartford, Connecticut, near her sister, Harriet.
It was while visiting her husband in his law office that she began reading the teachings of British jurist William Blackstone, whose interpretation of law 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,” thus rendering her powerless. Blackstone teachings were avidly adopted in the United States. Appalled by such ideas Isabella immediately became an active proponent for the rights of women, including suffrage and married women’s property rights.
In 1868 she helped to organize the New England Woman Suffrage Association and worked with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other early advocates for women’s rights. In 1870 she was a prominent speaker at the National Woman Suffrage Convention in Washington DC, and the following year financed another convention herself, at which a federal amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote was proposed.
In 1871 Isabella became an advocate of Victoria Woodhull, who ran for President in 1872, but scandal and a family rift erupted when Woodhull accused Isabella’s half-brother, Henry Ward Beecher of adultery. Despite being estranged from her family, Isabella remained active in the woman suffrage movement for the rest of her life, serving as the President of the Connecticut Association until 1905. She died in 1907.
Isabella Beecher Hooker braved the disapproval of society as a whole when she refused to accept the conventions of the day that reduced married women to possessions of their husbands. Her decisions and friendships were not without controversy, but she lived her life honestly and with courage.
Happy Birthday, Isabella Beecher Hooker!