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

8.
Catharine Esther Beecher: "Her Aegis of Defence"

THE half-century mark found Catharine Beecher's energies undiminished. She spent most of the 1850s shuttling back and forth between the East and Milwaukee, where she had founded the Milwaukee Female Seminary in 1850. Catharine raised money for the school, designed its programs, and lobbied its trustees for a permanent home for herself near its grounds. She also continued to publish prolifically. In addition to The True Remedy for the Wrongs of Woman ( 1851) and the 1869 American Woman's Home, in the last twenty-five years of her life Beecher wrote three books on religion, two on health, and one each on housework and woman suffrage.1 In 1874, four years before her death, she would publish her autobiographical Educational Reminiscences and Suggestions.

At the end of the 1850s, nevertheless, Beecher's active life was drawing to a close. By then, it was clear that her hopes for retiring to her Milwaukee seminary would not be realized. By then, too, Lyman, whose move to Ohio had prompted Catharine's own, had given up his dream of conquering the West and retreated to the East Coast. He died in Brooklyn, New York, in 1863.

Catharine soon followed her family east. In the late 1860s, she lived with Harriet in Hartford, where the two collaborated on The American Woman's Home and where Catharine tried unsuccessfully to revive the Hartford Female Seminary. In 1877, she moved to Elmira, New York, to the home of her brother Thomas and his wife, Julia. There, on May 12, 1878, after half a century of public life, Catharine Beecher died. "She has seen father, and mother . . .," Charles Beecher wrote, "She is 'gathered to her people' in the Significant language of the old old time."2

In 1828, Catharine had written to Edward Beecher that she wished she "could catch my inward woman, and give her such an inspection and exposition" as her brother was giving his "inward man." "[B]ut she is such a restless being that I cannot hold her still long enough to see her true form and outline," she had complained.3 Her comments proved

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