Catharine Beecher

Catharine Beecher
"It is the right and duty of every woman to employ the power of organization and agitation in order to gain those advantages which are given to the one sex and unjustly withheld from the other."
- Catharine Esther Beecher, 1870

Induction Category:
Education & Preservation

Born: 1800

Died: 1878

Inducted: 1994

Town: Hartford

When Catharine Beecher’s fiancé died at sea in 1822, she used the small inheritance he bequeathed to her to co-found the Hartford Female Seminary, an innovative school that offered young women the opportunity to study subjects that had traditionally been part of the male curriculum. Instead of a focus on “domestic” education, a rigorous plan of study challenged students in rhetoric, logic, Latin, algebra and philosophy. The expansion of academic opportunities for women established Beecher’s legacy as one of the most important educational reformers of the 19th century.

Catharine Esther Beecher was the eldest child of the Reverend Lyman Beecher and his first wife, Roxana Foote Beecher. The Beechers were a prominent Connecticut family, known for their commitment to abolition and reform. Catharine’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the author of the influential Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and her half-sister was the suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker. Catharine Beecher was educated at home and sent to a private school in Litchfield, but because of the school’s limited curriculum for young girls, she was largely self-taught in the subjects only available to men.

She brought this knowledge—and a passion for teaching—to the Hartford Female Seminary and later to the Western Female Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. The schools’ missions were not only to simply educate women, but also to train females as teachers who would fill a growing need in the rapidly expanding country. While Beecher’s seminaries retained a commitment to a separate, domestic sphere for women, her schools were also remarkable for their model of mutual instruction and their collegial, egalitarian policies. In addition to her schools and advocacy of teacher-training, Beecher wrote cookbooks, textbooks, advice books, newspaper articles and essays. In 1850, she helped organize the American Women’s Educational Association. Among her publications are 1842’s A Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School and The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles Of Domestic Science; Being A Guide To The Formation And Maintenance Of Economical, Healthful, Beautiful, And Christian Homes, co-authored with her sister Harriet and published in 1869.  

A portrait in contradictions, Catharine Esther Beecher was a pioneer who dedicated her life to the education of women, yet believed that women should be subordinate to men. She championed education reform and the promotion of women as teachers who would be responsible for the moral, intellectual and physical upbringing of American children. At the same time, she was not an abolitionist like her sister Harriet, and unlike her half-sister Isabella, she opposed women’s suffrage. She believed that women could best influence society in their roles as housewives and mothers, and yet she herself was neither a wife nor a mother, supporting herself as a writer, lecturer and educational entrepreneur until her death in 1878. 

During This Time
1800 - 1920: Industrialization & Reform