the bewitching brokers

***Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) was a celebrated and liberal preacher who advocated womens’ rights.


When Lucy Bowen, the 38 year old wife of a friend, was on her deathbed, she confessed to her husband that she had been committing adultery with the popular preacher. Henry Bowen was convulsed by jealousy and resentment but did not confront Beecher at the time.

Then the beautiful Libby Tilton, married to Theodore who was yet another of Beecher’s unsuspecting friends, also confessed to her husband that she had fallen under the preacher’s spell. When this news reached the ears of  Henry Bowen he saw a way to get his own back by pitting Theodore and Beecham against each other.


Around the same time, suffragette Victoria Woodhull became aware of the story. Victoria was a remarkable character who believed herself to be a clairvoyant and spirit medium. She and her sister Tennessee Claflin were the first women to have their own brokerage business and published a magazine espousing free love.


Victoria sent Theodore Tilton a message asking him to come and see her. With a shared dislike of Beecher, their attraction to each other was mutual and they became lovers. It did Tilton’s reputation no good at all to be associated with “Mrs Satan” and her scandalous doctrines especially when she announced she was running for president with a Negro reform leader as her running mate.


Victoria published the story of Beecher’s affair with Libby Tilton in her magazine. Suddenly everyone wanted to know whether Tilton was a cuckold and Beecher was a seducer. On 24 August 1874, Tilton swore out a complaint against Beecher, charging him with wilfully alienating his wife’s affections.

cartoon found at Bearskin Rug

The trial lasted 6 months and the whole nation was agog at the scandal. It was soon revealed that Beecher was accused of seducing Lucy Bowen as well as Libby Tilton. A newspaper cartoon at the time showed a Brooklyn businessman locking his wife in a huge safe with a notice on the door “Proof Against Fire and Clergymen” while another showed the latest style in mens hats – complete with cuckold’s horns.

“Magnificent Cuckold” poster found here

The court also learned that the wronged husband was not entirely innocent. He was alleged to have seduced the 17 year old daughter of a congressman in Connecticut and to have made an unsuccessful attempt to do the same to a maid in his own household. The story of his affair with Victoria Woodhull was also raked up.

The jury was out for 8 days; unable to reach a unanimous verdict they voted 9 to 3 against Tilton. Beecher went on a lecture tour and although he was booed in several places, he never failed to draw enormous crowds.

Theodore Tilton settled in Paris where he wrote romantic poetry and played chess. Libby, deserted by her husband and her lover, became a schoolteacher while the Woodhull sisters both married rich men and lived to a ripe old age.


*** from World Famous Scandals by Colin Wilson

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 7:46 am  Comments (33)  
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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I guess scandals have always been part of politics. So much drama…I never knew the suffrage movement was so touched by it.

    • Politics and religion are rife with scandal

  2. Sounds like Beecher really ‘loved’ women, a better use of his time than choirboys.

    Those priests, can’t trust ’em! I had our local reverend beheaded not long ago, trouble is another one has just popped up to replace him!

    The King

    • Is Reverend Anaglyph coming to town?

      • Aye, and he’d better watch his head!

        The King

  3. Beecher’s lecture tour probably drew large crowds because people heard there would be free boos.

  4. From the photos, it’s hard to imagine any of them having a sexual thought in their heads.

    • I think Victoria looked like a bit of a goer

  5. Seems like the good old days were pretty corrupt.

  6. haha…love the BearSkinRug site. Now you have me distracted.

    • It’s great isn’t it?

  7. i wish i’d named my daughter “Tennessee”. great name… scandalous or not!

    • Much better than Dakota

  8. Victoria sounds like she would have been quite the firebrand to know! And it makes perfect sense to me – he was simply advocating the right of women to sleep with him! 🙂

  9. Not much changes with history, everyone’s still screwing everyone else …

  10. “Tilton swore out a complaint against Beecher, charging him with wilfully alienating his wife’s affections.” I reckon I’ve got a case against Johnny Depp ……..

  11. I’m a spirit medium. Today it’s gin.

    • Today it’s gin, tomorrow it’s vodka…..

  12. And less a medium than a large.

  13. nursemyra – your ability to root out and revel in salacious tittle-tattle about the indiscretions of wayward members of the clergy is unsurpassable. Were you perhaps a convent girl that went astray?

    • Ah yes Nick, I was indeed!

  14. Truth is always far stranger (and more interesting) than fiction.

  15. People would pay money to be called ‘Mrs Satan’ these days.

  16. When I was at school I was looking for info. on Harriet Beecher Stowe and guess whose name popped up? I wish now I’d followed that lead, instead of asking the librarian if there was anything on Harriet!I should Google to see if they were kin…

    • She was his sister

  17. After my next big scandal, I’m going to live in Paris and write romantic poetry and play chess.

  18. I didn’t know you could take someone to court for “alienating your wife’s affections”. I’m guessing that’s no longer on the law books. Our legal system would be overflowing with more shit than it is now!

  19. Gotta love that Colin Wilson. If it’s a human sexual foible, he’s on it.

    • … and I’ve just picked up a copy of his book The Misfits. Reading about Charlotte Bach and the Marquis de Sade

  20. So now there is a historical precident for preacherly infidelities. But I confess I’m more interested in the story of Victoria Woodhull. Sounds fascinating!

    • Yeah, those sisters were the wild ones

  21. So many public figures are involved in sexual shenanigans, it’s a wonder they get any work done.

  22. I’m thrilled some of this unfolded in my home state of Connecticut. How exciting.

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