Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896) was an American abolitionist and author. Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) depicted life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the U.S. and Britain and made the political issues of the 1850s regarding slavery tangible to millions, energizing anti-slavery forces in the American North, while provoking widespread anger in the South. Upon meeting Stowe, Abraham Lincoln allegedly remarked "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!"[1]


Beecher was born Harriet Elizabeth Beecher on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the seventh child of Protestant preacher Lyman Beecher, husband of Roxana (Foote) Beecher,[2] whose children would later include the famed abolitionist theologian, Henry Ward Beecher. The family always supported black rights. Harriet worked as a teacher with her older sister Catharine: her earliest publication was a geography for children, issued under her sister's name in 1833. In 1836, after an ill-fated courtship with noted intellectual and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (complicated by the fact that they had never met), Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a clergyman and widower. Later she and her husband moved to Brunswick, Maine, when he obtained an academic position at Bowdoin College. Harriet and Calvin had seven children: twins Eliza (1836–1912) and Harriet (1836–1896), Henry (1837–1907), Frederick (1840–1870?), Georgiana (1843–1890), Samuel (1848–1849) and Charles (1850–1934). Her first children, twin girls Harriet and Eliza (the main character of Uncle Tom's Cabin was named after Eliza), were born on September 29, 1836. Four years later, in 1840, her son Frederick William was born. In 1848 the birth of Samuel Charles occurred, but in the following year, he died of cholera. Stowe helped to support her family financially by writing for local and religious periodicals. During her life, she wrote poems, travel books, biographical sketches, and children's books, as well as adult novels. She met and corresponded with people as varied as Lady Byron, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and George Eliot.

While she wrote at least ten adult novels, Harriet Beecher Stowe is known for her first, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). It began as a serial for the Washington anti-slavery weekly, the National Era; it focused public interest on the issue of slavery, and was deeply controversial. In writing the book, Stowe drew on her personal experience: she was familiar with slavery, the antislavery movement, and the underground railroad because Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Stowe had lived, was a slave state. Following publication of the book, she became a celebrity, speaking against slavery both in America and Europe. She wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), extensively documenting the realities on which the book was based, to refute critics who tried to argue that it was inauthentic; and published a second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, in 1856. Other social change campaigners, such as Caroline Norton, respected and drew upon her work.

The historical significance of Stowe's anti-slavery writing has tended to draw attention away from her other work, and from her work's literary significance. Her work is admittedly uneven. At its worst, it indulges in a romanticized Christian sensibility that was much in favor with the audience of her time, but that finds little sympathy or credibility with modern readers.[citation needed] At her best, Stowe was an early and effective realist. Her settings are often accurately and detailedly described. Her portraits of local social life, particularly with minor characters, reflect an awareness of the complexity of the culture she lived in, and an ability to communicate that culture to others. In her commitment to realism, and her serious narrative use of local dialect, Stowe predated works like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn by 30 years, and influenced later regionalist writers including Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American author and abolitionist in the years before the American Civil War. Stowe was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her father, Lyman Beecher, placed a strong emphasis on education. He was a Congregational minister and dedicated his life to his religion and to helping others. Stowe received her formal education at Hartford Female Seminary. The school had been opened and operated by Stowe's sister, Catharine Beecher. After graduating, Stowe became a teacher at the seminary. In 1832, the Beecher family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lyman Beecher had accepted a position as president of Lane Theological Seminary. Harriet accompanied her father. While in Cincinnati, she met Calvin Stowe, a professor at the seminary. The two people fell in love and later were married. During the 1830s, Stowe became an abolitionist. Slavery had been prohibited north of the Ohio River since the passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Cincinnati was immediately north of the state of Kentucky where slavery was legal. Thousands of runaway slaves passed through Cincinnati as they traveled to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Stowe became friends with several Ohio abolitionists. Among them was John Rankin, whose home in Ripley, Ohio served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The stories that she heard from runaway slaves and Underground Railroad conductors while she lived in Cincinnati formed the basis of her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In 1850, Calvin Stowe accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. While in Maine Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 inspired her to write the novel. She objected to the federal government actively assisting slave owners in their efforts to reclaim their runaway slaves in Northern states. Like William Lloyd Garrison, Stowe realized that most Northerners had never witnessed slavery firsthand. Most Northern people had no idea how brutal slavery could be. Through Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe sought to humanize slavery. She wanted to educate people about the brutalities of the institution. She hoped that her readers would rise up against slavery if they understood the beatings, the brutality, and the division of families that sometimes occurred. Because Uncle Tom's Cabin was a work of fiction, Stowe was criticized for her supposedly inaccurate portrayal of slavery. Stowe's novel was based on extensive research with former slaves and with active participants, both whites and blacks, with the Underground Railroad. Despite the criticism, the book became a bestseller. An abolitionist newspaper, The National Era, originally published the book as a serial in 1851 and 1852. In 1852, the story was published in book form and sold more than 500,000 copies in its first five years in print. It brought slavery to life for many people. The book did not make these people into devoted abolitionists, but Uncle Tom's Cabin did cause more and more Northerners to consider ending the institution of slavery. In 1862, Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln while she was visiting Washington, DC. Lincoln reportedly said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" Stowe became an instant celebrity thanks to Uncle Tom's Cabin. She traveled extensively to promote her book and encouraged other people to protest slavery. In 1853, she moved with her husband to Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin Stowe had accepted a teaching position at the Andover Theological Seminary. He retired in 1864, and the Stowes moved to Hartford. She continued to write and published thirty books before her death in 1893.

Writing Uncle Tom's Cabin

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 stirred Stowe to the abolitionist side. Her sister-in-law wrote her saying, "Harriet, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is." After reading this aloud to her children Harriet dramatically crumpled the paper in her hand and said, "I will write something if I live." While at church she is said to have had a vision of "Uncle Tom's death" and was reportedly moved to tears. Immediately she went to her home and started writing her book. Stowe began researching slavery. She interviewed fugitive slaves and slave owners with all points of views, and read several books. Later in 1851, with the help of William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, Stowe began publishing fictional sketches. These appeared during 1851 in the Cincinnati abolitionist newspaper, The National Era under the title "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Life Among the Lowly". Her main character is widely believed to have been based on Josiah Henson, who published his own account of being enslaved. After prompting from readers and her husband, who believed in her story's power to change the mind, she published her sketches as a two volume book in 1852. Within a week of its release in the U.S., her book sold a phenomenal 10,000 copies, and 300,000 the first year. Sales were even higher in Britain. By 1854, her book had been translated into 60 different languages.

Stowe's book had an astounding effect on the northern states of America. Thousands more flocked to the abolitionist side. However, the rift dividing the north and south deepened. Many in the south denied that the book was a true account of southern life, and took it as a slanderous accusation. The book was banned in southern states, and anyone in possession of it could be arrested. In their defense, southerners wrote mocking books praising the good of slavery such as "Aunt Phillis's Cabin; or Southern Life as it is." In response, Stowe gathered all her information and wrote, "A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," written to prove she had researched her topic. Yet it was not read as widely in the south as elsewhere.

However, across the Atlantic in Great Britain, the message of Uncle Tom was also embraced, supported from its inception by the powerful advocate Rev. James Sherman in London. In 1853 Harriet went on a visit to Europe, In London she was a guest of Sherman at Surrey Chapel, who assisted her arrangements for a speaking tour to promote the book. Upon her arrival in England she was given a warm welcome and was presented with an address, known as the Affectionate and Christian Address, from the Anti-Slavery Society, with over half a million signatures from women of all classes. This was given to her in 26 volumes; her reply was printed in the Atlantic Monthly. The head of the Anti-Slavery Society, the Duchess of Sutherland, became close friends with Harriet as well.

At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, Great Britain's thoughts of joining with the South moved Stowe to reply to the British people reminding them of their commitment to the slaves. Britain remained neutral throughout the war. In her journal Stowe wrote about her feelings about the War. She said, "It was God’s will that this nation—both North and South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South... the blood of the poor slave, that had cried so many years from the ground in vain, should be answered by the blood of the sons from the best hearthstones through all the free states." In 1862, Stowe went to see Lincoln to pressure him to free the slaves faster. Her daughter Hattie, who was present at the meeting between Stowe and Lincoln, reports the first thing Lincoln said was, "So you're the little lady who started this Great War."

Later life

Hartford home next door to the house in which Harriet Beecher Stowe spent the last 23 years of her life

Many historians consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin a significant force in leading to the Civil War, which ended in the abolition of slavery in America. She aided runaway slaves after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. Following the Civil War she built and established several schools and boarding homes for newly freed slaves. Stowe’s influence reached people of all walks of life, from government officials, to nobility, down to the common man. A book she wrote entitled How to Live on Christ so impacted the missionary Hudson Taylor in China, that he sent a copy of the book to each member serving with the China Inland Mission in 1869. This pamphlet has long been a mystery, but the words used were discovered in an Introduction which she wrote to the book Religion As It Should Be or The Remarkable Experience and Triumphant Death of Ann Thane Peck by Christopher Dean and published in 1847 by the Massachusetts Sabbath School Society. Because the pamphlet has never been found, one cannot be sure that the pamphlet was limited to the words taken from the preface but at least we know a little bit about the origin of the pamphlet.

Stowe then moved back to Hartford, Connecticut, into a community called Nook Farm. About this time, she wrote Woman in Sacred History, stating in the Introduction (p. 11):

The object of the following pages will be to show, in a series of biographical sketches, a history of WOMANHOOD UNDER DIVINE CULTURE, tending toward the development of that high ideal of woman which we find in modern Christian countries.

She lived there during the summer months for the last 23 years of her life, wintering in Mandarin, Florida. Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896 and was given a dignitary’s funeral. She was buried on the grounds of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.[3] Writing at the time mourned her death: {{quote|There is a movement on foot to erect a monument to the memory of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the well-known authoress, who died at the age of 85.

Before she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, the American novel was in its infancy. She is considered a contemporary of such authors as Honore de Balzac, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She wrote many other stories during her long life, although her fame rests very largely upon Uncle Tom's Cabin, of which many hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold.[4]

Landmarks related to Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati, Ohio is the former home of her father Lyman Beecher on the former campus of the Lane Seminary. Harriet lived here until her marriage. It is open to the public and operated as an historical and cultural site, focusing on Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Lane Seminary and the Underground Railroad. The site also presents African-American history. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati is located at 2950 Gilbert Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45206. [1]

The Stowe Family in Florida. "In the 1870s and 1880s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) and her family wintered in Mandarin, south of Jacksonville on the St. Johns River. Stowe wrote Palmetto Leaves while living in Mandarin, arguably the most effective and eloquent piece of promotional literature directed at Florida's potential Northern investors at the time.[5] The book was published in 1873 and describes Northeast Florida and its residents. In 1870, Stowe created an integrated school in Mandarin for children and adults. This was an early step toward providing equal education in the area and predated the national movement toward integration by more than a half century. The marker commemorating the Stowe family is located across the street from the former site of their cottage. It is on the property of the Community Club, at the site of a church where Stowe's husband once served as a minister." (Source: Florida Women's Heritage Trail, 2001)Harriet Beecher Stowe's great great nephew Keith Acusta currently reides in Homestead, FL he proudly speaks very highly of his great aunt.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine is where Uncle Tom's Cabin was written while Harriet and Calvin lived there while Calvin worked at Bowdoin College. Although local interest for its preservation as a museum has been strong in the past, it has long been an inn and German restaurant. It most recently changed ownership in 1999 for $865,000. [2]

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, Connecticut is the house where Harriet lived for the last 23 years of her life. In this 5,000 sq ft (460 m2). cottage style house, there are many of Harriet's original items and items from the time period. In the research library, which is open to the public, there are numerous letters and documents from the Beecher family. The house is opened to the public and offers house tours on the half hour. [3]

Partial list of works


See also

References and further reading

  • Adams, John R. (1963). Harriet Beecher Stowe. Twayne Publishers, Inc.. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 63-17370. 
  • Jeanne Boydston, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis, The Limits of Sisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women's Rights and Woman's Sphere (U of North Carolina Press, 1988),
  • Matthews, Glenna. "'Little Women' Who Helped Make This Great War" in Gabor S. Boritt, ed. Why the Civil War Came - Oxford University Press pp 31–50.
  • Gossett, Thomas F. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture. Southern Methodist University Press: 1985.
  • Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. Oxford University Press: 1994, the main scholarly biography
  • Rourke, Constance Mayfield. Trumpets of Jubilee: Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lyman Beecher, Horace Greeley, P.T. Barnum (1927).
  • Stowe, Charles Edward. The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe: Compiled from her letters and journals. (1889). by her son
  • Thulesius, Olav (2001). Harriet Beecher Stowe in Florida, 1867-1884. McFarland and Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-7864-0932-0. 
  • Sundquist, Eric J. ed. New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Cambridge University Press: 1986.
  • Weinstein, Cindy. The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Cambridge UP, 2004. ISBN 978-0-521-53309-6
  • Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (1962) pp 3–58
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher: Three Novels (Kathryn Kish Sklar, ed.) (Library of America, 1982) ISBN 978-0-94045001-1
  • Fritz, Jean. Harriet Beacher Stowe and The Beecher pPreachers

Other sources

External links

Sister projects

Faith (for Content):