Author brings historical figure Isabella Beecher Hooker out of the shadows

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Tue., Sep. 3, 2013
Susan Campbell at the Cragin Memorial Library, as part of the Connecticut Authors Trail series, delivered an engaging and humorous talk about her biography, ‘Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,’ to be published in March 2014. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.
Susan Campbell at the Cragin Memorial Library, as part of the Connecticut Authors Trail series, delivered an engaging and humorous talk about her biography, ‘Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,’ to be published in March 2014. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.

The attractive, strong-willed, sharply intelligent and charismatic Isabella Beecher Hooker born in 1822 in Litchfield, Conn., would - for a time - become the Oprah Winfrey of her day. This taste of celebrity – and the social/political influence that can come with it – would be relatively short-lived.

Not unlike the fickle fate of the famous today, the same people who would stand in long lines for her speaking tours would later brand her as “crazy” and then forget her.

The most vocal of her detractors would be her own family, whose most famous member was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center neighbors the well-known Mark Twain House in Hartford.

This portrait of Isabella, a woman who should be as much a topic of American history as her half-sister Harriet, was revealed in an engaging and humorous talk that brought Isabella out of the shadows and gave her a voice, as conveyed by author Susan Campbell.

Campbell spoke Aug. 29 at the Cragin Memorial Library as part of the annual Connecticut Authors Trail series. Campbell is a former columnist for The Hartford Courant; the award-winning author of “Marrying Jesus,” about growing up in a fundamentalist home; and co-host of a blog called Hot Dogma (http://hot-dogma.com ). Her new biography, “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,” will be published in March 2014.

Campbell told an audience of about 40 history buffs the origins of her new book was a story she wrote that left her dissatisfied and pushed her to do more research, as well as a husband who probably tired of hearing a subject Campbell said she worked into most conversations, who politely suggested, “Why don’t you write a book?”

Campbell led the audience through the unusual events of Isabella’s life, such as the good fortune of marrying a man, John Hooker, who recognized Isabella’s talents and encouraged her to become educated about the abolitionist movement and later joined the fight for women’s rights.

Hooker also was a patient man who accepted Isabella’s conditions for accepting his marriage proposal, including waiting two years for her to finish her education.

Also, because of her husband’s failing eyesight, to help him with his studies, Isabella read his law books to him. Thus, she discovered that as a wife, legally she was no more than an “appendage” of her husband.

She began lobbying legislators with her husband and other supporters of women’s rights, and by 1877, Connecticut became the first state to make it legal for women to own property.

So, how did such a woman slip into obscurity? It was a combination of factors, Campbell said, such as stating emancipated slaves should not be shipped to Africa but allowed to live freely in this country, bouts of depression (a family trait), and publicly asking her brother (a famous preacher) to repent of his affair with a married woman and step down from the pulpit.

Campbell concluded her talk with a candid confession. Curious about her ongoing obsession with Isabella, Campbell consulted psychics (not telling them who she was inquiring about). She grew disgusted with the wishy-washy “insights” of several but finally stumbled upon one who made a startling connection.

“There’s an older woman standing by and holding her head,” the psychic said.  Isabella died in 1907 following a stroke.

The psychic continued, “She’s been talking to you for a while… She says her name is Belle,” which was what the family called Isabella.

The psychic also said that Isabella admires “your First Lady,” Michelle Obama, but like the role women played in Isabella’s era, this smart and powerful woman, “could run the country, but instead she has to deal with fat children” – reflecting Isabella’s habit of not mincing words – referring to the campaign against childhood obesity.

Campbell said the psychic also told her that Isabella thanked her for finally giving her a voice.


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