We have talked about Henry Ward Beecher before, particularly in reference to his reputation as a dandy and a womanizer. Earlier this week, our neighbors at the Massachusetts State Library featured some of the juicy details of the court case that resulted from one of his alleged affairs.
In 1870, Elizabeth Tilton confessed her affair with Beecher to her husband, who then made it known to women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Stanton subsequently told fellow activists Isabella (Beecher's daughter) and Victoria Woodhull. Woodhull, enraged by what she viewed as flagrant hypocrisy practiced by the popular religious leader, who himself held a public stance against such free love, wrote an article about the affair in her newspaper Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly in 1872. The article sparked massive national interest. Beecher was successful in having Woodhull arrested on the grounds of distributing obscene materials through the mail, which split the allegiances of the clergyman's two daughters; Woodhull, given her own trial, was eventually released on a technicality.
After an inquiry conducted by his church, he was exonerated of all charges and Tilton was excommunicated from the church. In 1875, Tilton then brought a civil case to the city court, which could not arrive at a verdict; this prompted the Congregational church to hold a final hearing that, to the anger of many, resulted in Beecher's 2nd exoneration.