Connecticut History on the Web 


The Woman Question







Below is a list of the readings used with this unit. You may go directly to a document or group of documents by clicking on its name. You may also go to each separate page (a red heading denotes a separate page or collection) and scroll through each collection.



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"In the Parlor: An Introduction for the Role-Players"

Various pages from three issues of The Hartford Daily Courant describing the October 28 and 29 convention. The resolutions which the convention passed are included in these articles and should be studied by all the characters.

"The Last Word: The Connecticut Woman's Rights Movement in the Late 19th Century" - a followup essay concerning the activities of other Connecticut woman's rights advocates before 1920.

§Isabella Beecher Hooker

Biographical Sketch (composed mainly of selections from various of her memoirs)

"A Mother's Letters to a Daughter on Woman Suffrage" by Isabella Beecher Hooker

Letter from Mrs. S.H. Graves of Norfolk, Ct. to Isabella Beecher Hooker, October 24, 1871, courtesy of the Stowe-Day Foundation, Hartford, Conn.

(See also annotations in Isabella's handwriting in Horace Bushnell's book referred to below.)

§Horace Bushnell

Biographical Sketch

Selections from Women's Suffrage: The Reform Against Nature by Horace Bushnell (1869) - the copy used here was a copy of the book that Bushnell inscribed to Isabella Beecher Hooker, and includes her handwritten annotations, courtesy of the Stowe-Day Foundation, Hartford, Conn.

§Catharine Beecher

Biographical Sketch

Selections from Woman's Profession as Mother and Educator, with Views in Opposition to Woman Suffrage, by Catharine Beecher (1872)

§John Hooker

Biographical Sketch (including some reminiscences in his own words)

"Appeal to the Members of the General Assembly in Favor of the Right of Tax-Paying Women to Vote in Cities, Towns, and School Districts," by John Hooker (1874)

"Correspondence" to The Nation magazine (Nov. 4, 1869): "'The Revolution' and its Conductors," by John Hooker. A response to this article, "Methods of Agitation" was composed by the editor and is also included with this selection.(Reprinted with permission of The Nation.)

§Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Biographical Sketch

"Declaration of Sentiments and "Resolutions" adopted by the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848

"Address of Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Divorce Bill, Before the Judiciary Committee of the New York Senate, in the Assembly Chamber, Feb. 8, 1861"

Letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Isabella Beecher Hooker, September 23, 1869, courtesy of the Stowe-Day Foundation, Hartford, Conn.

Front page of August 10, 1871 issue of The Revolution - this is included more for illustration than for the specific content of the page.

§Caroline Maria Seymour Severance

Biographical Sketch

Letters from Caroline Severance to Isabella Beecher Hooker,August 17, 1869, September 24, 1869, and November 10, 1869, courtesy of the Stowe-Day Foundation, Hartford, Conn.

(See also "Methods of Agitation" article among excerpts from The Nation issue cited above under John Hooker)

This site was created by Mark Williams, a history teacher at The Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Connecticut, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Some of the materials published here were originally created by Mark Williams as Connecticut Case Studies, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council, and printed by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. John F. Sutherland of Manchester Community College, Ronald P. Dufour of Rhode Island College, Thomas P. Weinland of the University of Connecticut, Tracey Wilson of Conard High School, Robert K. Andrian of The Loomis Chaffee School, and State Historian Christopher Collier served as consultants. The Connecticut Humanities Council is the State Committee of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The viewpoints or recommendations expressed in the materials on this site of are not necessarily those of the Council or the Endowment. Teachers are encouraged to print and make copies of these materials for their students.



In the Parlor

An Introduction for the Role-Players


The Setting: Hartford, Connecticut, the early 1870's

It was just a few years ago, in the fall of 1869, that Isabella Beecher Hooker called a convention in Hartford to organize the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA). For many years Mrs. Hooker and her husband John, a well-known lawyer, had resided and raised their family at Nook Farm on the outskirts of the city of Hartford. Since the beginning of their marriage in 1841 she had insisted, and John had agreed, on an egalitarian relationship, and, on many occasions she had expressed her disapproval of the discrimination against women in the Anglo-American legal tradition. Nevertheless, it was not until after the Civil War, after nearly all her children were grown up and on their own, that she became an active part of a nationwide woman's rights movement that was, by that time, two decades old. Through her leadership this movement now has become a part of Connecticut's political agenda.

You are invited to join a number of your acquaintances over a cup of tea to discuss the "woman question" now that it has emerged full-scale in Connecticut. In 1867 a woman named Frances Ellen Burr led a petition effort to get the Connecticut legislature to grant women the right to vote. This effort was unsuccessful, but the margin of defeat in the House of Representatives (111-93) was close enough to encourage advocates of woman's rights to continue to work for the suffrage and other rights. Mrs. Hooker managed to get an extremely impressive assembly of speakers together in 1869, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Ward Beecher, Caroline Severance, Julia Ward Howe, and Reverend Olympia Brown. Even Mrs. Hooker's famous sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catharine Beecher, attended the convention. To be sure, these people have many disagreements with each other, but their presence all together at this convention and at social gatherings afterward ensured a healthy beginning for the CWSA and a prominent place for "the woman question" in the talk of the times (as you will see in the newspapers).

Organized effort on behalf of women in the United States began at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and a number of others, issued a "Declaration of Sentiments" expressing their disgust at the legal "enslavement" of woman and calling for her "emancipation." They noted that women had no control over their property once they were married, they had no say in making laws which they must obey, they could not control wages they earned, they were completely subservient to their husbands under the law, they suffered from unfair divorce laws, they had little access to profitable employment or even to a decent education, and they were generally placed in an inferior position in society. To say the least, these statements shocked the majority of Americans, including many women, and this opposition, and downright ridicule, made any progress nearly impossible. Even though there were woman's rights conventions in many cities throughout the 1850's, the press, most of the church leaders, and even many activists in other reform movements expressed their indignation.

At the moment (early 1870's), the American woman's rights movement is suffering from some recent setbacks as well as from internal division. After the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment which ended slavery, women such as Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who had been abolitionists themselves, had high hopes that equal rights would be granted not only to black men, but also to all citizens of the United States, male or female. However, it soon became clear that the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution would pass without securing equal rights and the vote for women. In spite of some local successes (the Wyoming Territorial Government granted women the right to vote in 1869 and, in the same year in Troy, New York, women laundry workers organized a successful strike), some of the woman's rights leaders, like Stanton and Anthony, became impatient with the Republican party leaders and more militant in their cries for equal rights. These two began publishing a radical newspaper The Revolution in 1868 and in May, 1869, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). So radical were they in their approach, that many of their former associates began feeling alienated. In Boston Julia Ward Howe, Caroline Severance, and William Lloyd Garrison formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and disassociated themselves from the NWSA. The leaders of the AWSA felt that the fight for suffrage should be carried on in a more dignified manner on a state-by-state basis, while Stanton and Anthony continued to argue stridently for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The woman's rights movement in Connecticut also received a jolt recently when Isabella Beecher Hooker's sister, Catharine Beecher, disclaimed any allegiance to the CWSA, even though she had attended its organizational convention in 1869. She has stated that, even though she wants a better life for women, she does not believe that the suffrage will achieve that. Another friend of Mrs. Hooker, the Rev. Horace Bushnell, agrees, stating that women have a higher calling than politics and can do more good there.

In spite of these setbacks and disagreements, the enthusiasm of advocates of woman's rights has not diminished. Nor have the members of the different factions ceased all communication with each other. Gatherings such as the one you will attend were not uncommon. Furthermore, it was not uncommon that some who were opposed, generally, to the woman suffrage movement, such as Catharine Beecher and Horace Bushnell, should join in such conversations. The requirements for proper and polite behavior of the times, in fact, made conversations among "enemies in principle" very possible.

You should begin your conversation with general introductions so that everyone knows everyone else. Then simply talk about things that are on your mind. Be assertive about your beliefs, but respectful of those who disagree with you, to the extent you are able to maintain your composure. It may be that you are not able to change people's minds immediately, but you should remain confident that, if you press your ideas and if you are in the right, your friends will eventually come to reconsider their erroneous views. Give the others something to think about!

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 Selections from the Hartford Daily Courant


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The Last Word

The Connecticut Woman's Rights Movement in the Late 19th Century

As we approach the 21st Century in the United States, no one questions whether or not it is appropriate for women to be voting on an equal basis with men. Thus, it may seem obvious that Isabella Beecher Hooker and all of her allies in the woman suffrage movement had the last word on the "woman question" and that all their work was not in vain. On the other hand, when we consider that Isabella did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, we realize that having "the last word" in this case was not very satisfying. Furthermore, a close look at the arguments and activities of the woman's rights movement in Connecticut (as well as nationwide) in the late 19th and early 20th Century raises the question of the real value of voting rights alone, when feminists of the time were struggling for so many other reforms, some of which have yet to be achieved.

Probably the most famous story connected with woman's rights in the history of Connecticut had little to do with Isabella Hooker. This is the story of the "Maids of Glastonbury" and their renowned cows. Abigail and Julia Smith were two unmarried sisters who had lived together in Glastonbury for a number of years after the death of their father. In 1873, having been convinced that the woman suffrage movement was on the right track, they publicly refused to pay their taxes. They justified their actions with reference to the ancient principle that taxation without representation violated individual rights, and since they could not vote in town meeting or for representatives to the state legislature, they could not be expected to pay taxes those bodies had passed. They made speeches from an oxcart in front of the town meeting hall to which their entrance was denied, and they petitioned the state legislature. When their property was confiscated they refused to buy it back, even though sympathetic neighbors returned their cows to them on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, in spite of the great stir they created, the laws did not change.

In fact, Isabella Beecher Hooker and her Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association never did succeed in attracting widespread support in the state in spite of their petitions, fairs and conventions. There were some gains for women during this time, although not necessarily the result of CWSA actions. In 1893 the legislature did enact a law allowing women to vote for school officials, and in 1909 they granted women the right to vote on school and public library issues. By 1900 many women had been elected to offices of school trustees, school visitors (evaluators), public librarians, police matrons, notaries public and assistant town clerks, and numerous others had been admitted to law practice and to some of the graduate and professional schools, including the Hartford Theological Seminary, the Yale graduate school, and the Connecticut Agricultural College (now the University of Connecticut). Furthermore, there is a lot of evidence that most women were seeking to control their lives in other ways on a daily basis. Immigrant and working class women, of course, having moved away from their families and into situations where they worked and lived independently, experienced and viewed things a lot differently from the way groups such as the CWSA saw things.

Nevertheless, these gains were offset by many more setbacks and continuing liabilities for women. In 1892 a Connecticut Constitutional Convention not only refused to hear Isabella Hooker argue that the word "male" be stricken from the old state Constitution, but also declined even to receive the thousands of copies of her petition she had had printed to circulate at the Convention. "This was a crushing blow," she wrote," for it ended all hope of my living to see the women of my native state put under the responsibilities of citizenship by the vote of honorable men." The right to vote for school officials itself received a blow in 1897 when an amendment made registration more complicated. The fact was that the leaders of the vastly powerful Republican State Central Committee saw woman suffrage as a threat to their continued tight control of the state government, and resisted it at every step. Furthermore, the membership of the CWSA itself remained small - in 1906 there were only fifty members.

More successful were efforts of female "Progressive Reformers" and women labor leaders who pushed for a wide range of social and economic legislation, many of which benefited women. These proposals included laws to strengthen married women's property status, provision for equal guardianship of children in divorce cases, prohibition of the sale of tobacco to boys under 16, requiring businesses to provide women and children seats when not busy in the factories, teaching "scientific temperance" in the public schools, and compelling cities over twenty thousand in population to have police matrons. In 1887 an act set a ten-hour limit on the workday for women and for children under 16. An 1895 statute outlawed employment of children under 14 in factories, and in 1909 a Republican legislature concerned about the next election acted to strengthen factory inspection laws. There were many women who were involved in pushing these proposals, and the CWSA itself supported them all with petitions and memorials to the legislature.

A group of these "progressive" women finally "took possession" of the CWSA in 1910. These included Emily Pierson and Katherine Houghton Hepburn of Hartford, and Grace Gallatin Saton and Valerie Hopkins Parker of Greenwich, all wealthy middle and upper class women. They were concerned originally with social issues such as child labor, prostitution, political corruption and fair work standards, but soon adopted the CWSA rhetoric fashioned over the years by Isabella and focussed on the suffrage as a major goal. They held rallies, sponsored letter-writing campaigns, distributed leaflets, and recruited women from all classes by arguing that giving women the right to vote would lead to social and economic reforms in the cities and in the factories. Eventually, in 1916, the leaders of the Democratic party endorsed woman suffrage when it was apparent the movement was gaining ground within their constituency in the cities.

After a campaign during the first World War to make suffrage and patriotism synonymous by emphasizing the contributions of women workers and volunteers, and through the tireless leadership of Katherine Ludington, the new president of the Connecticut Branch of the New Woman's Party in 1919, Connecticut was made ready for the woman voters that began registering in 1920. These leaders drew heavily upon the former rhetoric of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Isabella Beecher Hooker. A strong anti-suffrage movement, led by women as well as men, provided fierce opposition, but the CWSA and the Connecticut Branch worked together and focussed on the national Amendment, bypassing the continuing conservatism of the "land of steady habits." The state legislature finally ratified the 19th Amendment on September 21, 1920, almost a month after the necessary three-fourths of the states had already ratified.

Achieving the vote did not mean, however, that Connecticut woman's rights advocates' goals had been reached. Concerns about equal pay, divorce laws, education and job training, birth control, and a whole spectrum of other issues remained unaddressed by legislative action in the years after 1920, and the national woman's movement once again found itself divided into various factions. In Connecticut there was greater unity, and the CWSA leaders worked for reform in these areas. Certainly there have been numerous reforms since then, but serious problems remain. As Barbara Lacey wrote in a recent collection of essays on Connecticut,

Their economic status continues to be a major concern, and more employment training programs are needed to enable women to enter the job market at reasonable salary levels. Child care and transportation, flexible working hours, and pay equity require attention if women are to become more self-sufficient. To help women stay off public assistance rolls, child support and marital property laws need more effective regulation. And poverty among elderly women, a rapidly developing crisis, requires reform of social security and pension plans. While many Connecticut women are now able to enjoy new opportunities to develop their talents and abilities, others remain plagued by need and discrimination, suggesting that remedial action is still urgently required.

Isabella Hooker's complaint that women are second-class citizens apparently still relates to the condition of American society. Her dream that woman suffrage would mean a general elevation of woman to an "equal station with man" has yet to come true. We have yet to hear the last word on "the woman question."

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