The Beecher Family Papers contains manuscripts, printed materials, photographs, and memorabilia. These cover a time span of roughly two centuries, from the middle of the eighteenth century to the death of Henry Ward Beecher's granddaughter, Annie Howard Scoville (later known as Annie Beecher Scoville and so called in this collection) in 1953. Miss Scoville was the principal collector, with Lyman Beecher Stowe, of these papers.
The bulk of the material deals with the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, his family life, and his career. This includes his correspondence, sermons, travel accounts, diaries and notebooks, newspaper clippings, and accounts. Most of the correspondence falls within Beecher's lifetime and immediately afterward, although there is a small amount of correspondence preceding his birth in 1813. The correspondence is largely personal, but there are also letters to and from prominent contemporary clergymen. For the sake of convenience, Henry Ward Beecher's correspondence has been separated from the rest. Others for whom there is correspondence include: Eunice White (Bullard) Beecher (his wife); Beecher Family (his parents, brothers, and sisters); Harriet Eliza (Beecher) Scoville (his daughter); the Rev. Samuel Scoville (his son-in-law and an influential clergyman); and Annie Beecher Scoville. There is an extensive file of material on Indians, which includes some papers of the Women's National Indian Association. Scholars working on the life of Henry Ward Beecher will find pertinent letters in the correspondence of his family, as well as in some of the other files.
The Beechers were descended from John Beecher, a follower of John Davenport and, with him, one of the original settlers of New Haven colony. The correspondence in this collection begins with the correspondence of the Rev. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) and includes some correspondence between the members of his first wife's family (see Foote Family papers in this collection). Beecher was a prominent clergyman, who rose to fame through his temperance activities, his pronouncement against duelling, his anti-Catholic tract, and his nationally known pulpit oratory. He married three times and fathered thirteen children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood. It was said, only half in jest, that he was the father of more brains than any man in America.
One of the most famous of his offspring was his eight child and fourth son, Henry Ward, a noted preacher, orator, and popular spokesman on the varied issues of the day. He was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 24, 1813. He graduated from Amherst College in 1834; from there he went to Lane Seminary, of which his father was president. In 1837 he married Eunice Bullard, by whom he had ten children. Four of these lived to maturity: Harriet Eliza (Beecher) (1838-1911), Henry Barton (1841-?), William Constantine (1849-1928), and Herbert Foote (1854-1925). Ordained in Cincinnati in 1838, Beecher first held pastorates in Indiana, then a rude Western state, before going to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was called to the pastorate of Plymouth Church in 1847 (later Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims). He remained there the rest of his life, becoming a controversial and influential public figure, who became, for good or ill, a moral force in politics, most notably in the antislavery movement, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and finally in Cleveland-Blaine campaign that split the Republican party. There is a great deal of material in his correspondence on these issues and events. In addition, there is a large collection of his sermons, mostly in manuscript (these, however, are often fragmentary), Many of his sermons and addresses were published and widely issued in his lifetime, and most of these are available in the general collections of the Sterling Memorial Library and of the Yale Divinity School. For a partial listing of the sermon topics, see below.
There is also material on another aspect of his life, the notorious Tilton adultery scandal, which threatened to destroy, and did ultimately mar, his later career, though it did not permanently damage his popularity. Correspondence, church records, and other materials relating to the scandal, civil suit, and ecclesiastical proceedings will be found in a subject file, as well as in the general correspondence of the 1870s.
His many brothers and sisters are represented in the collection, although their papers constitute a much smaller part of the whole. In particular, there are numerous letters of Harriet Elizabeth (Beecher) Stowe (1811-1896), author of Uncle Tom's Cabin and other well-known novels. There are also some of her writings in manuscript. Catherine (or Catharine) Esther Beecher (1800-1878), pioneer educator and writer on "domestic economy" is represented by a small number of letters, as are Isabella Homes (Beecher) Hooker (1822-1907), well-known suffragist, author of several pieces on women's rights, and the third sister, Mary Foote (Beecher) Perkins, who led a strictly private life.
Of Lyman Beecher's other sons, the best known today are Edward Beecher (1803-1895), president of Illinois College, antislavery leader, and editor of the the Congregationalist; Charles Beecher (1815-1900); and Thomas Kinnicut Beecher (1824-1900). Charles Beecher, like his brother Edward, was involved in the antislavery movement, and delivered sermons against the Nebraska Act and the fugitive slave law. His church in Newark, N.J., was disfellowshipped because of its antislavery stand. He and Edward, held very heterodox religious views, for which Charles was tried as a heretic in 1863. Their brother Thomas, was an unconventional minister, whose church in Elmira, N.Y., became one of the first so-called "institutional" churches in the country, encouraging the integration of secular with religious activities and supplying a wide range of social services to the poor of the town. The other brothers were not as well-known, though one, James Chaplin Beecher (1826-1886) commanded a black regiment in the Civil War and later served in the Freedmen's Bureau in a military capacity, rising to the rank of brigadier-general by brevet. George Beecher was a minister in Rochester, N.Y. and Chillicothe, Ohio, who died young, quite probably a suicide. His half-brother James committed suicide in 1886. The oldest and least known of the brothers was William Beecher (1802-1889) who may be characterized as unsuccessful.
The collection extends for some sixty years after the death of Henry Ward Beecher. This correspondence consists mainly of letters of his surviving relatives. The Samuel Scoville correspondence is of interest for the letters of noted clergymen; of more general interest are letters relating to his wife's family. The Annie Beecher Scoville correspondence contains many letters concerning her work as a teacher and lecturer, and her lifelong friendship with Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), the poet and an instructor at Wellesley. Miss Scoville's lecture notes comprise a bulky and sometimes fragmentary body of notes, outlines, and drafts on the Beecher family, European literature, Italian painting, etc. Of special interest are the letters and other materials relating to her experience as a teacher at Hampton Institute in Virginia, a vocational training school founded by Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong for the education of blacks. (For further information on Hampton Institute, see files of the Southern Workman in the Yale Divinity Library.) There was also an Indian School at the Institute and the correspondence contains many letters from the so-called Returned Indian Students, who wrote to tell her of their fortunes as emissaries to their tribes. These individuals have been identified as nearly as possible, and a list, with tribal affiliations is attached as an appendix to this register. Some of these pupils became well-known after leaving Hampton, notably William Jones, the Indian ethnologist, and Susan (La Flesche) Picotte, a physician. [For further information, see H.M. Rideout, William Jones (1912) and Norma Kidd Green, Iron Eye's Family; Notable American Women (Cambridge, 1971) contains essays on two members of the La Flesche family, Susan Picotte and Susette Tibbles.] In addition to these materials there are letters regarding Miss Scoville's assignment as a special agent of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and her work for the National Indian Association, both in her correspondence and in the Subject File on "Indians".
The collection of photographs contains numerous portraits of members of the Beecher and Scoville families. Excellent photographs of Hampton Institute and of the Indians of Nebraska and South Dakota are in the Subject Files. The memorabilia and clippings give some of the flavor of the period in which the Beechers lived, and of the immense popularity of Henry Ward Beecher.
In closing, a word should be said as to family names and nicknames. Henry Ward Beecher usually addresses his wife as 'My dear wife'. Hatty may refer to Harriet Elizabeth (Beecher) Stowe, to Harriet Elizabeth (Beecher) Scoville, to Harriet Beecher (Scoville) Devan, and to Harriet (Benedict) Beecher. The HEB of the thirties is Harriet Beecher Stowe. Isabella (Beecher) Hooker is called Belle. Hal is Henry Ward Beecher's son, Henry Barton, and Will is William Constantine. Annie Beecher Scoville is generaly called Nan or Nanny. She was named Annie Howard Scoville and she signs herself so until her college years when she began the lifelong practice of signing and calling herself Annie Beecher Scoville.
[A note on manuscript sources: other major collections of Beecher family papers are located at the following institutions: the Library of Congress; the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College; the Mount Holyoke College Library; the Stowe-Day Foundation in Hartford; the Regional History and University Archives collections at Cornell; and the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Other collections are at the Universities of Virginia and Michigan. These and minor collections can be located in the published volumes of the National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections.]