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CATHARINE ESTHER BEECHER: THE EDUCATOR

    by Anya Laurence

  The first daughter born into the illustrious Beecher family, Catharine first saw the light of day in East Hampton, New York, on September 6, 1800. Apparently, from all accounts, she was a happy child, always making up silly verse and playing tricks on other family members. It seems a shame that this light-hearted young girl became a quavering old maid, staying with family members for months at a time. When she was still a child, the family moved to Litchfield, Connecticut, where today the Beecher home is packed in crates ready to be put back together again. This historic house should be re-assembled as a monument to the Beecher family and as an historic site. Catharine Beecher
Catharine Beecher

Alexander Fisher
Alexander Fisher

   Catharine, the daughter of the Rev. Lyman Beecher, became engaged in her twenties to Alexander Metcalf Fisher, Professor of Mathematics at Yale College. On a trip to buy books and visit several schools in Europe for the college, Metcalf was the tragic victim of a marine disaster. Lyman immediately played on his daughter's emotions by telling her that he feared Metcalf had 'not been saved' before he died.

   Catharine went into a great depression, believing that her fiance was doomed for eternity. She visited his family and stayed for several weeks...possibly the beginning of her nomadic lifestyle. This event shaped her for the rest of her life and even though she was depressed and fearful she managed to found a school (the Hartford Female Seminary), write books and lecture well into her late years.

   One of her favorite places to visit was Elmira, New York, where her half-brother, the Rev. Thomas was pastor of the Park Church. She stayed there many times and eventually died there of a stroke in 1878.

   In her lifetime Catharine accomplished a tremendous amount. In 1847 she co-founded, along with William Slade, ex-governor of Vermont, the Board of National Popular Education; in 1852 she founded the American Women's Educational Association, and wrote over twenty books, many on the education of children and women's household duties. She did not subscribe to the suffragette movement, believing that women had a great responsibility in raising their children to have high moral and intellectual standards.

Catharine Beecher
Catharine Beecher
   Although sickly for most of her life, Catharine managed to keep pace with her illustrious sisters and brothers...two of whom, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher became known worldwide. And while Henry and Harriet are still known today, unfortunately Catharine has almost been forgotten. Three universities named buildings after her: the University of Connecticut; The University of Cincinnati (since demolished), and Central Connecticut State University. Her ideas seem very old-fashioned today, but in her time she was one of the most influential women in America.

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