Catharine Beecher and Female Networking

October 9, 2014

Lyman Beecher, an ardent New England abolitionist, established the American Temperance Society in 1825 because women and families had been put at risk for being destitute when husbands spent family wages on alcohol. Lydia Maria Child, an indefatigable social networker, abolitionist, and proponent for the rights of Native Americans, offered practical knowledge for women with husbands who could not provide for families in her The American Frugal Housewife (1829).

Catharine Beecher (1800-1878), the daughter of Lyman Beecher, who organized women’s schools and colleges, and intellectually reconciled through her writing how existing patterns of female-subordination attributed to the “cult of true womanhood” were necessary to sustain American democratic sensibilities in antebellum America. Her Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) illustrated the consistency of Christian ideals of democracy to American social hierarchies. She proposed a new schema for professionalizing domestic work and schooling, and utilized Lockean theory to substantiate the argument that women’s activities required the same autonomous and practical critical thinking skills in the private sector as were required of men in experiencing career success in the public sector.

Detail of twentieth century stitching on back cover from Happy Hands Studio (Pendelton, Oregon) from unique artist book by Roberta Lavadour called "Happy Hands"

Detail of twentieth century stitching on back cover from Happy Hands Studio (Pendelton, Oregon) from unique artist book by Roberta Lavadour called “Happy Hands”

The Midwest became a cultural hearth where women organized pressure groups. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was established in Cleveland to oppose the manufacture and use of alcoholic beverages, and to educate the public on the social impact of abusing liquor. When the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, slave traders began to kidnap free blacks in the North and sell them into slavery in the South. During the 1850s, Ohio, where The Anti-Slavery Bugle was published, became a hub for abolitionist activism. Bugle writer Josephine Gaffing sheltered fugitive slaves in her home, and Quaker women provided safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Catharine Beecher’s younger sister Harriet Beecher Stowe was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and knew women assisting escaped slaves fleeing from Kentucky to Canada via the Underground Railroad.


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