Catharine Esther Beecher (September 6, 1800 – May 12, 1878) was an American educator known for her forthright opinions on female education as well as her vehement support of the many benefits of the incorporation of kindergarten into children's education.
Beecher was born in East Hampton, New York, the daughter of outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher. She was the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the 19th century abolitionist and writer most famous for her groundbreaking novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and of clergymen Henry Ward Beecher and Charles Beecher.
Beecher was educated at home until she was ten years old, when she was sent to a private school where she was taught the limited curriculum available to young women. The experience left her longing for additional opportunities for education. She taught herself subjects not commonly offered to women.
To provide such educational opportunities for others, in 1823 Beecher opened the Hartford Female Seminary, where she taught until 1831. The private girls' school in Hartford, Connecticut, had many well-known alumni, including Catharine’s sister Harriet. Later, Catharine was engaged to marry Professor Alexander Fisher of Yale University, but he died before the wedding took place. In 1841 Beecher published, “A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School”, a book that discussed the underestimated importance of women’s roles in society. The book was edited and re-released the following year in its final form. Catherine Beecher was a strong advocate of the inclusion of daily Physical Education and developed a program of calisthenics performed to music.
In 1831, Catharine Beecher suggested teachers read aloud to students the passages from writers with elegant styles, “to accustom the ear to the measurement of the sentences and the peculiar turns of expression”. She went on to have the students imitate the piece read using words, style, and turns of expression in order to develop, “a ready command of the language and easy modes of expression”. In 1846, Beecher pronounced that women not men should educate children and established schools for training teachers in western cities. She advocated that young ladies find godly work as Christian teachers away from the larger Eastern cities. The Board of National Popular Education which was her idea trained teachers in four-week sessions in Connecticut and then sent them out West. She believed that women had a higher calling to shape children and society.
Views on Education
Beecher recognized public schools' responsibility to teach moral, physical, and intellectual development of children. Promoted the expansion and development of teacher training programs deducting that teaching was more important to society than lawyers or doctors. Beecher was a strong advocate of the inclusion of Physical Education daily and developed a program of calisthenics performed to music.
Women as Educators
Beecher believed that women have inherent qualities that make them the preferred sex as teachers. As men left teaching to pursue business and industry, she saw the untapped potential of educated women and encouraged education of women to fill the increasing need for teachers. She considered women natural teachers, with teaching as an extension of their domestic role. She pushed and transformed teaching into women’s work rather than a profession that women could thrive in.
In 1862, John Brinsley recommended students analyze and imitate classical Greek and Latin models while Beecher recommended English writers. They both believed that frequent practice and the study of important authors helped students acquire writing skills. Perhaps these ideas provided the groundwork for Katie Wood Ray’s encouragement to include lots of time for lots of talk about topics of interest and to read anchor texts so that students can learn to write like a writer.
Beecher founded The American Woman’s Educational Association in 1852, an organization focused on furthering educational opportunities for women. She also founded the Western Female Institute in Cincinnati (along with her father Lyman) and The Ladies Society for Promoting Education in the West. She was also instrumental in the establishment of women’s colleges in Burlington, Iowa; Quincy, Illinois; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Beecher strongly supported allowing children to simply be children and not prematurely forcing adulthood onto them. She believed that children lacked the experience needed to make important life decisions and that in order for them to become healthy self-sufficient adults, they needed to be allowed to express themselves freely in an environment suited to children. It was these beliefs that led to her support of the system of kindergartens.