Over a chess game, Theodore Tilton told Elizabeth Cady Stanton that his wife, Elizabeth, had confessed to a "free love" relationship with Henry Ward Beecher. Stanton repeated Elizabeth Tilton's story to Victoria Woodhull and Isabella Beecher Hooker.
Victoria became angered by the hypocrisy of Henry Ward Beecher and his sisters, Harriet and Catharine, who had denounced her advocacy of free love. In November 1872, Victoria's paper, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, published a story stating that America's most renowned clergyman was practicing in secret the free-love doctrines he denounced form the pulpit. Within 24 hours of publication, copies sold for $40.00 each. A few days later, Victoria was arrested in New York City and imprisoned for sending obscene material through the mail. Harriet Beecher Stowe accused Victoria of libel. Isabella Beecher Hooker, however, continued to support Victoria Woodhull, and she encouraged her brother to confess his sin. Henry called Isabella insane, and Harriet and Catherine turned neighbors and family against Isabella.
Sam Clemens returned home from a lecture tour and forbade Livy to visit Isabella. He and his friend Joseph Twichell traveled to New York to attend the court proceedings. The trial ended in July when the jurors deliberated for six days but were unable to reach a verdict.