We began this project in 1983 as three individual scholars with different interests in Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Isabella Beecher Hooker. Anne Margolis had been engaged in extensive research on Hooker and the postbellum women's rights movement. Originally projecting an article on the Beecher-Tilton scandal, Margolis became convinced that the three sisters merited a book-length study. Jeanne Boydston's research on the history of housework had led her to recognize the contradictions within Catharine Beecher's life and work and to wrestle with the implications of Beecher's vision of domesticity for women of other races and classes. In her study of twelve nineteenth- century American women writers, Mary Kelley had come to understand the significance of Harriet Beecher Stowe for illustrating key themes and tensions within the nineteenth-century debate on woman's sphere.
In a sense, then, the process of melding these separate interests into a single volume has amounted to an extended "conversation among ourselves"--a conversation about the nineteenth century and the roles of white middle-class women within it, but also about the implications of that earlier period for the lives of women in the present. We hope the spirit of that conversation has informed the pages that follow.
Research on the sisters' roles in the Beecher-Tilton scandal, begun in 1982 with the support of a Grant-in-Aid from the American Council of Learned Societies, was continued under grants from the Division One Research Funding Committee of Williams College. Generous funding for the ongoing work on Catharine Beecher was provided by the Research Council of Rutgers University and a Henry Rutgers Research Fellowship. A Dartmouth College Faculty Fellowship and the Committee on Research made possible more extensive research on Harriet Beecher Stowe. We have all benefited from the assistance of former and present students, including in particular Dina Esposito, Terry Flemming, Marion Halliday, Christine Harrington, Michael Kolster, Katherine Monteiro, and Kathleen Waters. Virginia Close and Patricia Carter, librarians at Dartmouth College, and Peggy Hilbert, secretary at Throne International Metals,