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Eunice Bullard BeecherEunice Bullard Beecher

Hoosier Connection: Eunice Beecher moved to Indiana with her husband in 1837. The Beechers lived in Indiana for ten years, first in Lawrenceburg and later in Indianapolis.

Works Discussed: From Dawn to Daylight; or, The Simple Story of a Western Home

In 1812, Eunice Bullard White was born in West Sutton, Massachusetts. She married Henry Ward Beecher in 1837, and moved to Indiana with her husband immediately after her marriage. Henry Beecher was later to become a well-known Presbyterian minister, and for the first ten years of his career he would serve two churches in Indiana. The first church he served was the First Presbyterian Church in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio River. Indiana had become a state just two decades earlier, and it still had the rawness of a newly settled territory. While Eunice Beecher enjoyed the comforts of her life back East, she was excited and more than willing to embark with her new husband to this unfamiliar territory in order to support him in his ministry.

This enthusiasm and eagerness would soon fade to disappointment as she realized that a minister’s wife did not have the dignity and respect associated with the same position back home, and that she was expected to fill many demanding roles, none of which were familiar to her. Her disappointment with Indiana was apparent in her writing of From Dawn to Daylight; or, The Simple Story of a Western Home. The novel centered on Mr. and Mrs. George and Mary Herbert, who traveled to Indiana to start a new life through the ministry. This novel, published by a minister’s wife, was a thinly disguised autobiography of Beecher’s own experiences in this unfamiliar land. Not only were her new roles as a bride, a mother, and a minister’s wife difficult to adjust to, but the land itself proved to have an influence on Beecher’s rather discontented outlook on this challenging lifestyle.

At this time, Indiana was "an isolated pioneer state of dense forests, muddy rivers, and unpredictable roads and bridges. Even city streets, where pigs and sheep were free to roam, were unpaved and strewn with stumps" (Vanausdall 18). When arriving in Lawrenceburg, or what Beecher referred to as “Glenville” in From Dawn to Daylight, she remarked on her first impressions of the land:

I was so well-prepared by my husband’s descriptions, that I was not greatly surprised, when we picked our way from the wharf to the house through mud and over pigs; but my first impression was, that we should find these two articles, the staple commodity of this far-famed region (50).

She repeatedly referred to the landscape and its inhabitants in ways that, while far from complimentary, nevertheless gave an accurate representation of pioneer Indiana.

Along with the unfamiliar land and people, the climate was unfortunately ideal for illnesses such as malaria, or the “ague,” as it was referred to then, and the Herberts repeatedly suffered from this dreaded disease. In fact, one of the members of the Herberts' congregation disclosed the following to Mrs. Herbert:

"The whole region has always been suited for fever and ague, ever since it was settled. When Mr. Jackson and myself first came here it was frightful, but as the country round about became drained and settled, it has gradually decreased, or rather become less severe" (142).

The longer Mary lived in Indiana, the less harsh her opinions about the landscape became. However, she still felt that the countryside was lacking in comparison to her beloved Massachusetts scenery. When approaching Indianapolis for the first time, she described what many people notice about the central Indiana landscape even today:

It is a broad, level stretch of land as far as the eye can reach, looking as if one good, thorough rain would transform it into an impossible morass. How the inhabitants contrive to get about in rainy weather I can’t imagine, unless they use stilts. The city itself has been reclaimed in part from this slough, and presents quite a thriving appearance, being very prettily laid out, with a number of fine buildings. Excepting in the main business streets, the houses are not so huddled together, after the manner of our eastern cities; but each has a fine back and front yard, and the streets are broad, with shade trees on every side. On the whole, when seen on a fair, sun-lighted day, it is rather attractive at first sight, but after a while the eye tires of the sameness, and longs for some one or two elevated points to rest on, if it be but a mole-hill (140).

Mary’s opinions about the land and her surroundings were not wholly negative, and one of her solaces was tending to her thriving garden. She and her husband frequently would work in their garden in the morning, before the daily calls and business began. The garden was most likely a result of Henry Ward Beecher's extensive interest in horticulture. While he did much to further the interest of horticulture in Indianapolis, it was often through introducing non-native species into the local ecosystem. Although his interest in gardening was a reflection of an interest in the environment, it is also an example of humanity's common urge to change their surroundings to suit themselves. As Beecher writes in From Dawn to Daylight, "[A] floral interest had been gradually developed among the people, and at the time I write, few small cities could be found, where ornamental shrubs and trees were so abundant, or selected with greater taste" (291).

Another change from Beecher’s eastern scenery was her description of prairie land. For example, after a particularly difficult time at the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, the congregation offered the Herberts and their children an opportunity to travel for two weeks to renew their health and spirits:

This journey was a new era in their life’s history – a glorious spot of sunshine, following a dark and gloomy storm. Prairie traveling was a novelty to both. Broad plains, eighteen and twenty miles in extent, without a tree, shrub, fence, or building… They would ride miles, guided by the sun, through nature’s flower-gardens, regularly laid out in broad strips, or patches, with colors tastefully blended, harmonized, or contrasted. Acres of wild roses, in full bloom, joined by equally extensive fields of purple, red, or crimson zenias; then the large, white ox-eye, the golden buttercup or coryopsis, the deeper purple, almost black iron-weed – the only dividing line between being the change in color, as one species of flower abruptly displaced the other. The scene was varied occasionally by a flight of birds, or a troop of deer, startled by their approach, bounded swiftly across their track, and were soon lost to sight in the tall grass beyond. Silence reigned all about them, broken only by their own voices, or the slight sound of their horses’ feet, on the soft, green sward (298-99).

Indiana prairie
Indiana prairie

In 1847, after ten years in Indiana, the Beechers left Indianapolis for Brooklyn, New York. Twelve years later, Beecher published From Dawn to Daylight, which caused such a sensation that it was effectively banned in Indianapolis, because of what citizens felt was a negative portrayal of themselves and their city. The novel was quite the contrary, with honest and frank descriptions of the city and the land. In fact, after her move back East, Beecher referred to their term in Indianapolis as being “a very happy home – for many reasons the happiest we ever knew" (Vandausdall 22).

While viewed as a negative commentator on Indiana, Beecher played a very important role in depicting what pioneer Indiana was like for early settlers. Her ability to write and later publish a novel in a time when women were still shackled by convention speaks of her ability and talent, and helps give a broader understanding of what pioneer life involved.



Beecher, Eunice Bullard. From Dawn to Daylight; or, The Simple Story of a Western Home. New York: Derby and Jackson, 1859.

Elsmere, Jane Shaffer. Henry Ward Beecher: The Indiana Years, 1837-1847. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1973.

Vandausdall, Jeanette. "The Story of a Western Home." Traces 2.2, 1990: 16-23.


In Elsmere. Henry Ward Beecher: The Indiana Years, 1837-1847.

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