Cover image for The Beecher sisters
The Beecher sisters
White, Barbara A., 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiii, 399 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Calvinist childhoods, 1800-18370 -- Marriage and motherhood, 1837-1852 -- In the wake of Uncle Tom's Cabin -- Water cure and Civil War, 1860-1865 -- The gilded age, 1865-1868 -- Suffrage arguments, 1868-1869 -- "Foes in your own household, " 1870-1871 -- Free love and "Mrs. Satan, " 1871-1872 -- The Beecher-Tilton scandal, 1872-1875 -- Spiritualism, 1875-1878 -- Losses, 1878-1887 -- The board of lady managers, 1888-1893.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CT274.B43 W48 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Young Adult

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The Beecher sisters - Catharine, Harriet and Isabella - were three of the most prominent women in 19th-century America. Daughters of the famous evangelist Lyman Beecher, they could not follow their father and seven brothers into the ministry. Nonetheless, they carved out pathbreaking careers for themselves. Catharine Beecher founded the Hartford Female Seminary and devoted her life to improving women's education. Harriet Beecher Stowe became world famous as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Isabella Beecher Hooker was an outspoken advocate for women's rights. of the 19th century. The life of Isabella Beecher is examined in particular detail here. Drawing on little-used sources, Barbara White explores Isabella's political development and her interactions with her sisters and with prominent people of the time - from Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Mark Twain.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

At a time when few women entered the public sphere, the Beecher sisters made an impressive splash. Harriet Beecher Stowe became world famous after publishing her antislavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, in 1852: 300,000 copies were sold in the United States that year, and she became the unofficial "spokesperson of the anti-slavery movement." The oldest sister, Catharine Beecher, founded the Hartford Female Seminary in the 1820s and published over two dozen books on women's education and religion. Isabella, the youngest sister, has been less celebrated, and White chooses to focus this joint biography on her in part because no full-length biography of her exists, in part because a great deal of primary material on her life is available. The decision to focus on Isabella is a good one. She becomes a leader in the women's movement, intimately associated with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but she is just controversial and flighty enough to ruffle feathers and show the frayed edges of central alliances within the movement. The same holds true for her relationship with her sisters-the three women represent very different perspectives on how women ought to participate in the public sphere, and it's usually Isabella's liberal leanings that create rifts within the family. White, professor emeritus of women's studies at the University of New Hampshire, brings to life the details and the ethos of an era; this volume provides not only a rich, varied, sensitive account of the sisters' lives, but a compelling overview of the many groundbreaking acts performed by intelligent, steadfast women during the 19th century. B&w photos. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The seven sons of famous American evangelist Lyman Beecher followed him into the ministry, but what of his four daughters? White (Univ. of New Hampshire; Growing Up Female) examines the lives of three of those daughters. Readers will recognize Harriet as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin but may be surprised to learn of Catherine's career as a pioneer of women's education and Isabella's as a women's rights' advocate. Painstaking research, much of it from primary sources, traces these lives from childhood in the intellectually stimulating and emotionally volatile Beecher household through careers, marriage, and motherhood to fame and legacies. Along the way, we learn that Catherine considered teaching "drudgery," that Harriet constantly struggled to balance writing and family, and that pragmatic suffragette Isabella was obsessed with Spiritualism. Throughout, White emphasizes their loving but complicated relationships with each other. Though scholarly in tone and most suitable for academic libraries, this is no dry recitation of facts. Instead, it is a vivid portrait of three complex women who succeeded in a world dominated by men. Although biographies have been published of Catherine and Harriet, none exists of Isabella; and while Samuel Schreiner's recent The Passionate Beechers provides similar coverage, it focuses on the family as a whole rather than on the sisters. White is to be commended for restoring Catherine and Isabella to their rightful places beside their more famous sister.-M.C. Duhig, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The history of families in the US usually focuses on the dynasties of the elite--e.g., the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and the Bushes--reminding us of the correlation between kinship, politics, and the heroic roles assumed by men. White (emer., women's studies, Univ. of New Hampshire) offers a different family history--that of the Beecher sisters, Catherine, Harriet, Isabella, and Mary, whose lives encompass the 19th century. None ever wore a military uniform, were ever elected to a political office (they all lived before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment), and they failed to accumulate wealth. Their influence, importance, and heroism are in the realm of women's rights and freedom for the enslaved. The book provides an insightful glimpse into family, social, political, and cultural issues of the era. White is meticulous in her research--so much so that this book takes its place beside Milton Rugoff's excellent The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century (CH, Nov'81). White's superb book will be well received by those in women's studies and family, social, and cultural history. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. P. D. Travis Texas Woman's University