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Isabella Beecher Hooker

Dates: February 22, 1822 - January 25, 1907

Occupation: reformer, feminist

Known for: woman suffrage work

Also known as: Isabella Beecher, Isabella Hooker

Daughter of Rev. Lyman Beecher, half-sister of Henry Ward Beecher, Catherine Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Isabella Beecher Hooker grew up in Boston, Cincinnati and Hartford, Connecticut. Her much-older sister Catherine's schools comprised most of her education. In a family noted for good looks, Isabella had a particular reputation for beauty.

While attending Catherine Beecher's Hartford Female Seminary, Isabella met John Hooker, a law student of a distinguished Connecticut family. They married, and he began a distinguished law career. In the 1850s, John Hooker joined with his brother-in-law in a business building homes outside Hartford on the site of Nook Farm, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, John and their children moved there. Other homeowners in the development came to include Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dudley Warner, and Mark Twain.

Between cases, John Hooker read aloud from the law books of Blackstone, and Isabella was horrified to learn of the lack of legal rights for women. A gift from Anna Dickinson of some writing of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor on women's rights, an 1864 meeting with Caroline Severance while nursing wounded in South Carolina, and finally, reading a pre-publication copy of Mill's On the Subjection of Women convinced Isabella to become involved in the woman's rights movement. Through her acquaintance with Caroline Severance, she met Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Paulina Wright Davis and other suffragists.

She soon joined with others in founding the New England Woman Suffrage Association. She took a leading role in planning and sponsoring woman's rights conventions in Connecticut, and supported a married women's property bill introduced into the legislature, drafted by her husband.

When Victoria Woodhull submitted a suffrage petition to Congress, undercutting plans Hooker had made for working towards a federal suffrage amendment, Hooker was prepared to dislike Woodhull. But she heard Woodhull speak, and, impressed, became a supporter.

In fact, she became such a strong supporter that she took Woodhull's side against her own family shortly thereafter. Woodhull published in her weekly newspaper accusations of adultery against Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Isabella's illustrious half-brother, a Congregationalist minister like their father. Isabella accepted the truth of Woodhull's accusation, though Rev. Beecher's church and most of his friends and family did not. The Nook Hill literati ostracized Isabella Hooker over her support for Woodhull and Henry Ward Beecher pronounced her insane. The split never healed; when Henry Ward died 16 years after the accusations were published, his wife barred Isabella from visits and even from the funeral.

Isabella Hooker became involved in Spiritualism, primarily through her association with Victoria Woodhull. At one point she became convinced that the spirits would give her a divine mission to lead a matriarchal revolution.

The Nook Farm circle was more willing to forgive old divisions than Henry Ward Beecher's family had been; in 1891 that group held a grand celebration of the Hookers' fiftieth wedding anniversary.

In her seventies, still active, Isabella supported Olympia Brown's efforts to work for suffrage in Presidential elections through Congressional action, rather than support the National Woman Suffrage Association's work for state-by-state suffrage. She served on the Board of Lady Managers at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and served as president of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association until 1905.

When John Hooker died in 1901, and again when Isabella Beecher Hooker died in 1907, her family severed more fully their ties to Isabella's father's and brother's Congregationalism by having the funerals conducted by a Unitarian minister.

Suggested Reading

Harriet Beecher Stowe
A biography and extensive index of other resources on Isabella Beecher Stowe's much more famous half-sister, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin and other works.

About Isabella Beecher Hooker

  • Categories: suffragist, reformer
  • Organizational Affiliations: New England Woman Suffrage Association, National Woman Suffrage Association, International Convention of Women, Board of Lady Managers of the World's Columbian Exhibition, Federal Suffrage Association
  • Places: Litchfield, Connecticut, United States
  • Period: 19th century
  • Religious Associations: Congregational, Unitarian

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