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Catharine Beecher

Catharine Beecher

Catharine Esther Beecher (September 6, 1800 – May 12, 1878) was an American educator known for her forthright opinions on female education as well as her vehement support of the many benefits of the incorporation of kindergarten into children's education.


  • Biography 1
    • Parents and siblings 1.1
    • Education 1.2
    • Female seminary 1.3
    • Midlife in the West 1.4
    • Later life 1.5
  • Views on and advocacy of education 2
    • Views on Education 2.1
    • Women as Educators 2.2
  • Influential changes over time 3
    • Anti-Suffragist 3.1
  • Accomplishments 4
    • Schools 4.1
    • Published Works 4.2
  • College buildings named for her 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Parents and siblings

Beecher was born September 6, 1800, in East Hampton, New York, the daughter of outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher and Roxanna (Foote) Beecher. She was the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the 19th century abolitionist and writer most famous for her groundbreaking novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and of clergymen Henry Ward Beecher and Charles Beecher.


Beecher was educated at home until she was ten years old, when she was sent to a private school in Litchfield, Connecticut, where she was taught the limited curriculum available to young women. The experience left her longing for additional opportunities for education. She taught herself subjects not commonly offered to women, including math, Latin, and philosophy. She took over the domestic duties of her household at the age of 16, following her mother's death. Beecher became a teacher in 1821 at a school in New Haven, Connecticut. Catharine was engaged to marry Professor Alexander M. Fisher of Yale University, but he died at sea before the wedding took place. She never married.

Female seminary

To provide such educational opportunities for others, in 1823 Beecher opened the Hartford Female Seminary, where she taught until 1832. The private girls' school in Hartford, Connecticut, had many well-known alumni, including Catharine’s sister Harriet, who also assisted her at the school.

Comprehending the deficiencies of existing textbooks, she prepared, primarily for use in her own school, some elementary books in arithmetic, a work on theology, and a third on mental and moral philosophy. The last was never published, although printed and used as a college textbook.[1]

She was constantly making experiments, and practicing them upon the girls, weighing all their food before they ate it, holding that Graham flour and the Graham diet were better for them than richer food. Ten of her pupils invited her to dine with them at a restaurant. She accepted the invitation, and the excellent dinner changed her views. Thereafter they were served with more palatable food.[1]

Midlife in the West

In 1832, Beecher moved with her father to

  • Works by Catharine Beecher at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Catharine Beecher at Internet Archive
  • An American Family the Beecher Tradition Accessed 1/21/10
  • PBS Schoolhouse Pioneers
  • Neman Library: The American Beecher Family Tradition
  • PBS:The Story of American Public Education
  • Lawrence University

External links

  • Wright, E. A. & Halloran, S. M. (2001). From rhetoric to composition: The teaching of writing in American to 1900. In J. J. Murphy (Eds.). A short history of writing instruction: From ancient Greece to modern America. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • Ohles, John.F. Biographical Dictionary of American Educators Vol 1. Greenwood Press. London, England. 1978.
  • Rugoff, Milton. The Beechers: An American family in the nineteenth century. Harper&Row. New York. 1981
  • White, Barbara. The Beecher Sisters. Yale University Press. London. 2003
  1. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the  
  2. ^ Beecher, Catharine Esther; Beecher Stowe, Harriet; Tonkovich, Nicole. The American Woman's Home. Hartford, Conn.: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center; New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8135-3078-9.
  3. ^ "Death of Catherine E. Beecher". The New York Times (May 13, 1878), accessed November 9, 2011.
  4. ^ Sklar, Kathryn Kish (1973). Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity. Yale Univ Pr; First Edition. p. 137.  


  • Grace Norton Kieckhefer. The History of Milwaukee-Downer College 1851-1951. MDC Series 33-2. Milwaukee: Centennial Publication, Nov. 1950.
  • Carolyn King Stephens. Downer Women, 1851-2001. Milwaukee:Sea King Publishing, 2003.

Further reading

Three universities named buildings for her: Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and The University of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati building has been demolished.

College buildings named for her

  • 1829: Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education
  • 1830: Letters on the Difficulties of Religion (Hartford)
  • 1837: An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with reference to the Duty of American Females
  • 1838: The Moral Instructor for Schools and Families: Containing Lessons on the Duties of life (Cincinnati)
  • 1842: A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (Boston: T.H. Webb) read online
  • 1844: Memoirs of her brother, George Beecher
  • 1845: The Duty of American Women to Their Country
  • 1846: Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book
  • 1846: The Evils Suffered by American Women and Children: the Causes and Remedy
  • 1850: Truth Stranger than Fiction (Boston), an account of an infelicitous domestic affair in which some of her friends were involved
  • 1851: True Remedy for the Wrongs of Women, with a History of an Enterprise having that for its Object (Boston)
  • 1855: Letters to the People on Health and Happiness (New York)
  • 1856: Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families
  • 1857: Common Sense applied to Religion, a book containing many striking departures from the Calvinistic theology
  • 1860: An Appeal to the People, as the Authorized Interpreters of the Bible
  • 1864: Religious Training of Children in the School, the Family, and the Church
  • 1869: The American Woman's Home (with Harriet Beecher Stowe) (see summary and links to the book here)
  • 1870: Principles of Domestic Science as applied to the Duties and Pleasures of Home
  • 1871: Woman's Profession as Mother and Educator, with Views in Opposition to Woman Suffrage (Philadelphia)
  • 1873: Housekeeper and Healthkeeper (New York)
  • 1874: Educational reminiscences and suggestions

Published Works

  • 1823: Hartford Female Seminary: Beecher co-founded the Hartford Female Seminary, which was a school to train women to be mothers and teachers. It began with one room and 7 students; within three years, it grew to almost 100 students with 10 rooms and 8 teachers. The school had small class sizes, where advanced students taught other students. All classes were connected to general principles, and students were motivated to go beyond the classes' texts and instruction.
  • 1832: Western Female Institute
  • 1852: The Ladies Society for Promoting Education in the West founded colleges in Burlington, Iowa; Quincy, Illinois; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Female College changed names several times. Today, as Downer College of Lawrence University of Appleton WI, it is the longest continuously operating college for women's higher education founded on the Beecher plan.



Beecher thought that women could best influence society as mothers and teachers, and did not want women to be corrupted by the evils of politics. She felt that men and women were put on the earth for separate reasons and accepted the view that women should not be involved in politics, but rather, they would teach male children to be free thinkers and moral learners and help shape their political ideas.[4]


Beecher strongly supported allowing children to simply be children and not prematurely forcing adulthood onto them. She believed that children lacked the experience needed to make important life decisions and that in order for them to become healthy self-sufficient adults, they needed to be allowed to express themselves freely in an environment suited to children. It was these beliefs that led to her support of the system of kindergartens.

Beecher founded Western Female Institute in Cincinnati (along with her father Lyman) and The Ladies Society for Promoting Education in the West. She was also instrumental in the establishment of women’s colleges in Burlington, Iowa; Quincy, Illinois; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 1862, John Brinsley recommended students analyze and imitate classical Greek and Latin models while Beecher recommended English writers (Wright & Halloran, 2001). They both believed that frequent practice and the study of important authors helped students acquire writing skills.

Influential changes over time

Beecher believed that women have inherent qualities that make them the preferred sex as teachers. As men left teaching to pursue business and industry, she saw the untapped potential of educated women and encouraged education of women to fill the increasing need for teachers. She considered women natural teachers, with teaching as an extension of their domestic role. She pushed and transformed teaching into women’s work rather than a profession that women could thrive in.

Women as Educators

Beecher recognized public schools' responsibility to teach moral, physical, and intellectual development of children. Promoted the expansion and development of teacher training programs deducting that teaching was more important to society than lawyers or doctors. Beecher was a strong advocate of the inclusion of Physical Education daily and developed a program of calisthenics that were performed to music. She also firmly believed in the benefits of read-aloud.

Views on Education

In 1831, Catharine Beecher suggested teachers read aloud to students the passages from writers with elegant styles, “to accustom the ear to the measurement of the sentences and the peculiar turns of expression” (Wright & Halloran, 2001, p. 215). She went on to have the students imitate the piece read using words, style, and turns of expression in order to develop, “a ready command of the language and easy modes of expression” (Wright & Halloran, 2001, p. 215). In 1846, Beecher pronounced that women, not men, should educate children and established schools for training teachers in western cities. She advocated that young ladies find godly work as Christian teachers away from the larger Eastern cities. The Board of National Popular Education which was her idea trained teachers in four-week sessions in Connecticut and then sent them out West. She believed that women had a higher calling to shape children and society.

Catharine Beecher

In 1841 Beecher published, “A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School”, a book that discussed the underestimated importance of women’s roles in society. The book was edited and re-released the following year in its final form. Catharine Beecher was a strong advocate of the inclusion of daily Physical Education and developed a program of calisthenics performed to music.

Views on and advocacy of education

In 1878 Beecher died from apoplexy.[3]

It was claimed that hundreds of the best teachers the West received went there under the patronage of this system. To a certain extent the plans succeeded, and were found beneficial, but the careers of the teachers were mostly short, for they soon married.

In 1837, Beecher retired from administrative work. After returning East she started The Ladies' Society for Promoting Education in the West. In 1847 she co-founded the Board of National Popular Education with William Slade, ex-governor of Vermont. In 1852 she founded the American Women's Educational Association.[2] Their goal was to recruit and train teachers for frontier schools and send women into the West to civilize the young. This became a model for future schools developed in the West.

Later life


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