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ISABELLA BEECHER HOOKER: THE SUFFRAGETTE   

      by Anya Laurence


Isabella Beecher Hooker
One of the more vocal members of the Beecher family, Isabella was drawn to the feminist cause after reading law books with her husband, John Hooker, when she was first married. Although only nineteen years old, she was outraged by the laws of the time, which in her opinion gave more freedom to an animal than to a married woman. This apparently set the stage for her later interest in the feminist movement begun by such pioneers as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and many others. When she read in Blackstone, the law bible of the time, that “the husband had the right to restrain his wife by whips and cudgels” or to “use moderate whipping,” Isabella became incensed. She smoldered for years, until she felt the time was right to take on the world and change women's lives for the better.
Isabella was born to Lyman Beecher and his second wife, Harriet Porter, at Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1822, and was known as the beauty of the family. Married at nineteen, she apparently had a very happy relationship with her husband, who became a noted lawyer in Farmington, Connecticut. John Hooker was a descendant of the founder of the state of Connecticut, the Rev. Thomas Hooker, who was also the author of the world's first written constitution.*
   In 1861 Anna Dickinson spoke against slavery at a gathering in Hartford which Isabella attended. Although she was thrilled with the young woman's speech, it was Caroline Severance, of Boston,who persuaded her to organize, along with Paulina Wright Davis and William Lloyd Garrison, The New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1864. From then on Isabella could not be stopped.

Isabella and John Hooker

    Although she did much for women's rights, she also meddled in family affairs. When her half-brother, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, was on trial for adultery, she insisted that she would take the pulpit at Henry's huge church in Brooklyn, New York, and tell the congregation the 'truth' about the case. She was prevailed upon to stay away from the church by several prominent parishioners, who stood guard lest she try to enter.
    Isabella's motto was “The world is my country; to do good is my religion,” and she spent many years travelling about the United States preaching her doctrine. Her husband predeceased her by one year and in 1907 Isabella followed him. She was 85 years old and still fuming and fussing about the suffering and injustice in the world when she passed away.

*Saints, Sinners and Beechers, by Lyman Beecher Stowe.


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