Harriet Beecher Stowe House, 2950 Gilbert Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45206, Stati Uniti
Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002, Stati Uniti
Lane Theological Seminary, 2820 Gilbert Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45206, Stati Uniti
Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232, Stati Uniti
Henry Ward Beecher (June 24, 1813 – March 8, 1887) was an American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker, known for his support of the abolition of slavery, his emphasis on God's love, and his 1875 adultery trial.
Henry had a childhood stammer and was considered slow-witted and one of the less promising of the brilliant Beecher children. His less-than-stellar performance earned him punishments such as being forced to sit for hours in the girls' corner wearing a dunce cap. At age fourteen, he began his oratorical training at Mount Pleasant Classical Institution, a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he met a fellow student, Constantine Fondolaik, a Smyrna Greek. Both students later attended Amherst College together, where they signed a "contract" pledging lifelong friendship and brotherly love. Fondolaik died of cholera after returning to Greece in 1842, and Beecher later named his third son after him.
Beecher married Eunice Bullard in 1837 after a five-year engagement. Their marriage was not a happy one; as Applegate writes, "within a year of their wedding they embarked on the classic marital cycle of neglect and nagging", marked by Henry's prolonged absences from home. The couple also suffered the deaths of four of their eight children.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the Berkshire town served as a cultural center for Boston-based writers and intellectuals, including Herman Melville, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Ward Beecher, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was also a magnet for an international coterie of progressive women reformers, among them Frances Ann (Fanny) Kemble, the British actress turned abolitionist; Harriet Martineau, the British writer on women’s rights; Fredrika Bremer, the Finnish feminist; and Anna Jameson, the British feminist and historian—all of whom engaged the young minds at the Elizabeth Sedgwick’s Lenox Academy, a progressive boarding school in the Berkshires for audacious girls.
Beecher enjoyed the company of women, and rumors of extramarital affairs circulated as early as his Indiana days, when he was believed to have had an affair with a young member of his congregation. In 1858, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote a story accusing him of an affair with another young church member who had later become a prostitute. The wife of Beecher's patron and editor, Henry Bowen, confessed on her deathbed to her husband of an affair with Beecher; Bowen concealed the incident during his lifetime.
Several members of Beecher's circle reported that Beecher had had an affair with Edna Dean Proctor, an author with whom he was collaborating on a book of his sermons. The couple's first encounter was the subject of dispute: Beecher reportedly told friends that it had been consensual, while Proctor reportedly told Henry Bowen that Beecher had raped her. Regardless of the initial circumstances, Beecher and Proctor allegedly then carried on their affair for more than a year. According to historian Barry Werth, "it was standard gossip that 'Beecher preaches to seven or eight of his mistresses every Sunday evening.'"
In a highly publicized scandal, Beecher was tried on charges that he had committed adultery with a friend's wife, Elizabeth Tilton. In 1870, Elizabeth had confessed to her husband, Theodore Tilton, that she had had a relationship with Beecher. The charges became public when Theodore told Elizabeth Cady Stanton of his wife's confession. Stanton repeated the story to fellow women's rights leaders Victoria Woodhull and Isabella Beecher Hooker.
Henry Ward Beecher had publicly denounced Woodhull's advocacy of free love. Outraged at what she saw as his hypocrisy, she published a story titled "The Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case" in her paper Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly on November 2, 1872; the article made detailed allegations that America's most renowned clergyman was secretly practicing the free-love doctrines that he denounced from the pulpit. The story created a national sensation. At Beecher's urging, Woodhull was arrested in New York City and imprisoned for sending obscene material through the mail. The scandal split the Beecher siblings; Harriet and others supported Henry, while Isabella publicly supported Woodhull.
The subsequent trials and hearings, in the words of Walter A. McDougall, "drove Reconstruction off the front pages for two and a half years" and became "the most sensational 'he said, she said' in American history". The first trial was Woodhull's, who was released on a technicality. The Plymouth Church held a board of inquiry and exonerated Beecher, but excommunicated Theodore Tilton in 1873. Tilton then sued Beecher on civil charges of adultery. The trial began in January 1875, and ended in July when the jurors deliberated for six days but were unable to reach a verdict. Beecher then called for the Congregational church to hold a final hearing to exonerate him, which it did.
Stanton was outraged by Beecher's repeated exonerations, calling the scandal a "holocaust of womanhood". French author George Sand planned a novel about the affair, but died the following year before it could be written.
In 1871, Yale University established "The Lyman Beecher Lectureship", of which Henry taught the first three annual courses. After the heavy expenses of the trial, Beecher embarked on a lecture tour of the West that returned him to solvency. In 1884, he angered many of his Republican allies when he endorsed Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland for the presidency, arguing that Cleveland should be forgiven for having fathered an illegitimate child. He made another lecture tour of England in 1886.
On March 6, 1887, Beecher suffered a stroke and died in his sleep on March 8. Still a widely popular figure, he was mourned in newspapers and sermons across the country. Henry Ward Beecher is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
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