The Limits of Sisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women's Rights and Woman's Sphere

By Jeanne Boydston; Mary Kelley et al. | Go to book overview

10. Isabella Beecher Hooker:
"The Lips of Women Are Being Unsealed"

WHEN she paused to reminisce at the age of eighty-three, Isabella Beecher Hooker credited her official entrance into the suffrage sisterhood to the influence and example of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. "Sitting at the feet" of both women in the summer of 1869, Hooker had vowed to share their "obloquy" as well as their work.1 She soon came to envision her own mediatory efforts on their behalf as a divinely sanctioned means of fulfilling her Beecher legacy. Yet as she ventured first into the postbellum women's rights movement and later into spiritualism, Isabella detached herself from her Calvinist heritage with a remarkable ease that contrasted sharply with her sister Catharine's protracted and painful struggle. For Isabella, faith in the political power of womanhood became a substitute for organized religion. This faith went hand in hand with her fervent belief in the moral imperative of sexual solidarity among women. Indeed, in describing and justifying both goals, Hooker frequently made use of religious terminology and Biblical analogies. Yet ironically, her commitment to these ideals not only caused her to fail in her attempts to mediate between the two wings of the suffrage movement but also alienated her from her own sisters, thus illustrating the complex politics of sisterhood.

Isabella had been staying with Harriet in New York City, helping her edit Lady Byron Vindicated, when John Hooker suggested in a series of letters that his wife should seek financing from wealthy ladies in order to set herself up as a preacher to women. Recognizing the advantages that might accrue to both the family and the movement if Isabella could bring Catharine and especially Harriet into the suffrage fold, John also encouraged his wife to introduce her sisters to Susan B. Anthony, whom Isabella had met just a few weeks earlier. He wanted the Beecher sisters to discuss the possibility of contributing regularly to Anthony's journal, The Revolution

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