Catharine Esther Beecher (September 6, 1800 – May 12, 1878) was a noted educator, renowned for her forthright opinions on women’s education as well as her vehement support of the many benefits of the incorporation of a kindergarten into children’s education.
Beecher, born in East Hampton, New York, was the daughter of outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher. Her numerous other well-known family members include her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, the 19th century abolitionist and writer most famous for her groundbreaking novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and two brothers who were both renowned Congregationalist ministers, Henry Ward Beecher and Charles Beecher.
She 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, and 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 Catherine’s sister Harriet. Later, Catherine was engaged to marry Professor Alexander Fisher of Yale University, but he died before the wedding was to take place. In 1841 Beecher published “A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School” a book which discussed the underestimated importance of women’s roles in society. The book was edited and re-released the following year in its final form.
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 adult responsibilities 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.