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Newspaper Caricatures about the Henry Ward Beecher Trial

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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Lehigh University Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

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The Beecher family was a prominent collection of clergymen, authors, social reformers and abolitionists during the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. Henry Ward Beecher was one of nine children of Rev. Lyman and Roxana Beecher. The trial referred to in this volume of newspaper sketches involved Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist clergyman, speaker, abolitionist, social reformer and younger brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." He was an attractive eloquent speaker attractive to many young women. It was reputed at the time that his wife, Eunice, mother of his nine children was "unloved." In a highly publicized scandal known as the Beecher-Tilton Affair he was tried on charges that he had committed adultery with a friend's wife. In 1870 Elizabeth Tilton had confessed to her husband, Theodore Tilton, that she had had a relationship with Henry Ward Beecher, their pastor. Beecher, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church, and her husband pressured Elizabeth to recant her story, which she did, in writing. These charges became public when Theodore Tilton 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 (a sister of Henry). Henry Ward Beecher had publicly denounced Woodhull's advocacy of free love. Woodhull published a story in 1872 in her newspaper claiming that America's most renowned clergyman was secretly practicing the free-love doctrines that he denounced from his pulpit. The story became a sensation. Woodhull was arrested in New York City and imprisoned for sending obscene material through the mail. The Plymouth Church held a board of inquiry and exonerated Beecher but excommunicated Theodore Tilton in 1873. Tilton then sued Beecher. The trial began in January 1875 and ended in July when the jurors deliberated for six days were unable to reach a verdict. A second board of inquiry was held at Plymouth Church and again exonerated Beecher. Two years later Elizabeth Tilton again confessed to the affair and the church excommunicated her. Despite this, Beecher continued to be a popular national figure, however, his family was split. Most of his siblings supported him, except for Isabella Beecher Hooker, who openly supported one of his accusers. At the time the proceedings had the status of trial of the century. Beecher continued as a well renowned national figure. He died in 1887 with messages of condolence sent to his family by national figures including President Grover Cleveland.

A selective collection of newspaper caricatures, cartoons, sketches and portraits of the Beecher family especially related to the scandalous adultery trial in 1875 involving the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and Mrs. Elizabeth Tilton. Beecher was the younger brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The entire Beecher family was involved in the abolition cause. The collection of illustrations bound in this volume are an interesting evidence of the public opinion of the era. There are approximately 123 pages containing 87 caricatures/ cartoons (newspaper sources are possibly indicated on page 84) and 36 portraits (14 of Henry Ward Beecher, one of H.W. Beecher and wife, four of Lyman Beecher (H.W.B.'s father), five of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and 12 portraits of other people involved such as the Tilton children. Some of these portraits are photographs and some are etchings.

The collection seems to be assembled together randomly, no obvious order.

"Pictorial History of the Beecher-Tilton Scandal. Its Origin Progress and Trial. Illustrated with Fifty Engravings from Accurate Sketches." Unknown Author. New York: Frank Leslie, 1875.

Unknown February 4, 1893

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/repositories/3/archival_objects/439. Description of the Collection.
Box 0202

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