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Anthony, Susan B.

LETTER: ALS to Isabella Hooker.


Anthony And Hooker
On The Tilton-Beecher Scandal:
A Defining Document
Anthony, Susan B. Autograph letter signed, "S. B. Anthony," to Isabella Beecher Hooker, Rochester, December 1, 1872.
One leaf of plain white paper folded to make four pages, two sides covered; together with Hooker's autograph letter, unsigned, to Anthony, November 27, 1872, written on the conjugate of the same leaf, two sides covered. In a specially made quarter-morocco slipcase.
On November 27, 1872, three weeks after Victoria Woodhull published her scandalous account of Henry Ward Beecher's affair with a married parishioner, Mrs. Elizabeth Tilton-an account which would lead to Woodhull's repeated incarceration for distributing obscene literature-Isabella Beecher Hooker wrote to Anthony of her efforts to get her half-brother and his adulterous lover to come clean and acknowledge their affair: "I wrote Mrs. Tilton last week enclosing copy of a letter to my brother & asking her to send it to you. Possibly the letter will never reach her-& then she may not wish to send to you as I desired. The letter implored her to allow me to stand by his side while he confessed the truth & then to take charge of the services as God might inspire." Hooker says she feels "just as you do toward Mrs. T. I have known all the time that her guilt was great, since woman's nature, especially a mother's, is a spiritual teacher, she cannot resist without doing violence to her whole being." Hooker hoped a confession would come the following week, and "it occurs to me that if my efforts are to succeed next Sunday she may need you in the house there. Had you not better go there-think of it-telegraph her."
Anthony, who earlier in the year had ousted Woodhull from the NWSA and refused to back her bid as the first female Presidential candidate because of her free love political platform, responded just days later. After opening with a reference to her own trial for illegal voting, she devotes the remainder to a distraught discussion of the unfolding drama. Anthony was outraged that Woodhull was exploiting Beecher's alleged indiscretion, using his hypocrisy to justify her call for "pantarchy." Though Anthony seems far less willing than Hooker to acknowledge Beecher's and Tilton's guilt, the missing "not" in the following passage might be a Freudian slip, one that reveals her underlying belief in the truth of the rumors:
 Did Mrs. Merriwether of Memphis send you her article-she was in Boston & saw & heard Victoria's speech there-which the Weekly repeats-& she pronounces the pretense of arrest & imprisonment for obscenity-weak and wicked-that there was [not] an obscene word throughout. It was a stunning charge which, if false, deserves the cell, but which if not true, requires only a denial of the six persons she says told it to her or talked it to her-all of them reliable persons, whom everybody would believe.
She insisted that Beecher "must be able to proclaim a social theory to the world that would save the best men from living a lie to their theories-not only-but to their dearest & nearest friends."
Hooker's quick acceptance of Woodhull's charges cost her many friends in the suffragette and reform movements-including (not surprisingly) Henry Ward Beecher, who said she was "insane." In June 1873 Woodhull was finally acquitted of obscenity charges, and resolved to continue preaching against American sexual hypocrisy. Vindication of her stance on the Tilton-Woodhull scandal came in 1875, when Theodore Tilton finally sued Beecher for the alienation of his wife's affections: upon the suit's out of court settlement, his wife Elizabeth published her full confession of the affair.
A remarkable survival, intimately linking two towering early American feminists. Anthony letters of this vintage and with this content are rare.

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