Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Harriet Beecher, the daughter of the Congregationalist minister, Lyman Beecher, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on 14th June, 1811. Her brother was the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. After an education at the Connecticut Female Seminary she taught at schools in Hartford and Cincinnati.

In 1834 Harriet began to write short stories for the Western Monthly. Two years later she married the Rev. Calvin Ellis Stowe, a clergyman and biblical scholar. Over the next few years Harriet had seven children but continued to write stories and articles for numerous magazines.

Harriet was converted to anti-slavery campaign after hearing Theodore Weld speak at a public meeting. She was determined to do something to help the cause. One day, while in church, she decided to write a novel about slavery. The main character in the book was based on Josiah Henson, an escaped slave whose narrative Harriet had read. Weld's book, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, also provided her with plenty of background material.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was written as a serial and began appearing in the anti-slavery journal, the National Era, in 1851. It was published in book form the following year. In the preface Stowe wrote: "The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us; to show their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away with the good effects of all that can be attempted for them by their best friends."

The publisher decided to print 5,000 copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was an immediate best-seller. The first edition sold out in seven days. Despite being banned in the South, over 300,000 copies were sold in its first year. As Frederick Douglass was later to point out: "Its effect was amazing, instantaneous and universal".

Translated into many languages, Uncle Tom's Cabin was also a great success in Europe. In England alone over a million copies were sold. Supporters of slavery were furious and Stowe received hundreds of hostile letters. Thirty pro-slavery novels were published in an attempt to reverse public sympathies in what had now become a propaganda battle. Stowe responded by publishing The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), a book of source material on slavery.

Stowe visited England where she met Queen Victoria. She also made three tours of Europe and this inspired her book Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854). A second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp appeared in 1856. The story of a slave rebellion was followed by The Minister's Wooing (1859).

Other books written by Stowe include Agnes of Sorrento (1862), Oldtown Folks (1869) Pink and White Tyranny (1871) and We And Our Neighbours (1875).

Harriet Beecher Stowe died on 1st July, 1896.

The author will now enter into a consideration of slavery as it stands revealed in slave law. What is it according to the definition of law-books and legal interpreters? "A slave," says the law of Louisiana, "is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and his labour; he can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire anything, but what must belong to his master." South Carolina says: "Slaves shall be deemed, sold, taken, reputed, and adjudged in law, to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever." The law of Georgia is similar. Judge Ruffin, pronouncing the opinion of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, says a slave is "one doomed in his own person, and his posterity, to live without knowledge, and without the capacity to make anything his own, and to toil that another may reap the fruits.'

This is what slavery is, this is what it is to be a slave! The slave-code, then, of the Southern States, is designed to keep millions of human beings in the condition of chattels personal; to keep them in a condition in which the master may sell them, dispose of their time, person, and labour; in which they can do nothing, possess nothing, and acquire nothing, except for the benefit of the master; in which they are doomed in themselves and in their posterity to live without knowledge, without the power to make anything their own, to toil that another may reap. The laws of the slave-code are designed to work out this problem, consistently with the peace of the community, and the safety of that superior race which is constantly to perpetrate this outrage.

With what face can we exhort our Southern brethren to emancipate their slaves, if we do not set the whole moral power of the Church at the North against such abuses as this? Is this course justified by saying that the negro is vicious and idle? This is adding insult to injury.

What is it these Christian States do? To a great extent they exclude the coloured population from their schools; they discourage them from attending their churches by invidious distinctions; as a general fact, they exclude them from their shops, where they might learn useful arts and trades; they crowd them out of the better callings where they might earn an honourable livelihood; and having thus discouraged every elevated aspiration, and reduced them to almost inevitable ignorance, idleness, and vice, they fill up the measure of iniquity by making cruel laws to expel them from their States, thus heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.

The thing to be done, of which I shall chiefly speak, is, that the whole American Church, of all denominations, should unitedly come up, not in form, but in fact, to the noble purpose avowed

by the Presbyterian Assembly of 1818, to seek the entire abolition of slavery throughout America and throughout Christendom.

To this noble course the united voice of Christians in all other countries is urgently calling the American Church. She must undertake it because she alone can perform the work peaceably. If this fearful problem is left to take its course as a mere political question, to be ground out between the upper and nether millstones of political parties, then what will avert agitation, angry collisions, and the desperate rending of the Union? No, there is no safety but in making it a religious enterprise, and pursuing it in a Christian spirit, and by religious means.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American author. She was best known for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which helped galvanize the abolitionist cause and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. She also wrote poetry, essays, and non-fiction books. Beginnings Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her father was the Reverend Lyman Beecher, and her mother was Roxanna Foote Beecher. Her mother died when Harriet was only five years old. She had 10 brothers and sisters. Many of her siblings became famous reformers, following in their father's footsteps.

Harriet was first a student, and later a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, founded by her sister, Catharine. During that period, the seminary was one of a few schools that educated females. Catharine believed that women should be educated in careers outside the home, and she also stressed the importance of writing. Harriet received an outstanding education and began to develop her talents as a writer. Life in Ohio In 1832, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Harriet's father became the president of Lane Theological Seminary. In 1836, Harriet met and married Calvin Stowe, a professor at the seminary. The couple had seven children, most of whom were born in Cincinnati. Only three would survive their parents. Harriet Stowe joined the Semi-Colon Club, a local literary society in Cincinnati. Her writing skills became sharper as a result of her experiences in the club. Early in her marriage, Stowe published stories and magazine articles to supplement the family’s income. A best seller from Brunswick In 1850, Calvin Stowe accepted a teaching position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The family moved to Brunswick. That year saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a crime for citizens of free states to give aid to runaway slaves. The new law inspired Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published in 1852 as two volumes. It became a best seller in the United States, England, Europe, and Asia, and was translated into more than 60 languages. Stowe used some of her own experiences and feelings to write the novel. The story humanizes slavery by portraying the lives of individuals and families. She describes the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that enslaved people were forced to endure. After some critics attacked the veracity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe published The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853, in which she presented her source material. Her inspiration had come partly from Theodore Weld's 1839 work, Slavery As It Is. That year, Stowe was invited to speak in Britain, where she was greeted enthusiastically. She made several return trips to Britain and Europe. Stowe also urged women of the United States to use their influence to obtain signatures on petitions, and spread information against slavery. It was said that Uncle Tom’s Cabin contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War by showing the American people the evils of slavery. According to legend, when Stowe met Abraham Lincoln in 1862, he said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" Moving again In 1853, the Stowes moved to Andover, Massachusetts, when her husband became a professor of theology at Andover Theological Seminary from that year to 1864. After Calvin retired, the family relocated to Hartford, Connecticut. When the family moved into their Forest Street home in Hartford, they became neighbors of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Less heralded works Stowe published a second anti-slavery novel in 1856, entitled, Dread: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. Although her later works did not win the same popularity as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she still managed to publish novels, essays, and a volume of religious poems. In 1862, she published Pearls of Orr’s Island Old-Town Folks was released in 1869 and her last novel was Poganuc People, in 1878. Harriet Beecher Stowe died two years after her husband, on July 1, 1896, in Hartford. Her resting place is at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.


Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 14, 1811. [1] She was the sixth of 11 children [2] born to outspoken Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher. Her mother was his first wife, Roxana (Foote), a deeply religious woman who died when Stowe was only five years old. Roxana's maternal grandfather was General Andrew Ward of the Revolutionary War. Her siblings included a sister, Catharine Beecher, who became an educator and author, as well as brothers who became ministers: including Henry Ward Beecher, who became a famous preacher and abolitionist, Charles Beecher, and Edward Beecher. [3]

Harriet enrolled in the Hartford Female Seminary run by her older sister Catharine. There she received something girls seldom got, a traditional academic education, with a focus in the Classics, languages, and mathematics. Among her classmates was Sarah P. Willis, who later wrote under the pseudonym Fanny Fern. [4]

In 1832, at the age of 21, Harriet Beecher moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to join her father, who had become the president of Lane Theological Seminary. There, she also joined the Semi-Colon Club, a literary salon and social club whose members included the Beecher sisters, Caroline Lee Hentz, Salmon P. Chase (future governor of Ohio and Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln), Emily Blackwell and others. [5] Cincinnati's trade and shipping business on the Ohio River was booming, drawing numerous migrants from different parts of the country, including many escaped slaves, bounty hunters seeking them, and Irish immigrants who worked on the state's canals and railroads. In 1829 the ethnic Irish attacked blacks, wrecking areas of the city, trying to push out these competitors for jobs. Beecher met a number of African Americans who had suffered in those attacks, and their experience contributed to her later writing about slavery. Riots took place again in 1836 and 1841, driven also by native-born anti-abolitionists. [ citation needed ]

Harriet was also influenced by the Lane Debates on Slavery. The biggest event ever to take place at Lane, it was the series of debates held on 18 days in February 1834, between colonization and abolition defenders, decisively won by Theodore Weld and other abolitionists. Elisabeth attended most of the debates. [6] : 171 Her father and the trustees, afraid of more violence from anti-abolitionist whites, prohibited any further discussions of the topic. The result was a mass exodus of the Lane students, together with a supportive trustee and a professor, who moved as a group to the new Oberlin Collegiate Institute after its trustees agreed, by a close and acrimonious vote, to accept students regardless of "race", and to allow discussions of any topic.

It was in the literary club at Lane that she met Rev. Calvin Ellis Stowe, a widower who was a professor of Biblical Literature at the seminary. [7] The two married at the Seminary on January 6, 1836. [8] The Stowes had seven children together, including twin daughters. [ citation needed ]

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Civil War Edit

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, prohibiting assistance to fugitives and strengthening sanctions even in free states. At the time, Stowe had moved with her family to Brunswick, Maine, where her husband was now teaching at Bowdoin College. Their home near the campus is protected as a National Historic Landmark. [9] The Stowes were ardent critics of slavery and supported the Underground Railroad, temporarily housing several fugitive slaves in their home. One fugitive from slavery, John Andrew Jackson, wrote of hiding with Stowe in her house in Brunswick, Maine, as he fled to Canada in his narrative titled "The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina" (London: Passmore & Albaster, 1862). [10]

Stowe claimed to have a vision of a dying slave during a communion service at Brunswick's First Parish Church, which inspired her to write his story. [11] However, what more likely allowed her to empathize with slaves was the loss of her eighteen-month-old son, Samuel Charles Stowe. She even stated the following, "Having experienced losing someone so close to me, I can sympathize with all the poor, powerless slaves at the unjust auctions. You will always be in my heart Samuel Charles Stowe." [12] On March 9, 1850, Stowe wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the weekly anti-slavery journal The National Era, that she planned to write a story about the problem of slavery: "I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak. I hope every woman who can write will not be silent." [13]

Shortly after in June 1851, when she was 40, the first installment of Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in serial form in the newspaper The National Era. She originally used the subtitle "The Man That Was A Thing", but it was soon changed to "Life Among the Lowly". [1] Installments were published weekly from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. [13] For the newspaper serialization of her novel, Stowe was paid $400. [14] Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in book form on March 20, 1852, by John P. Jewett with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. [15] Each of its two volumes included three illustrations and a title-page designed by Hammatt Billings. [16] In less than a year, the book sold an unprecedented 300,000 copies. [17] By December, as sales began to wane, Jewett issued an inexpensive edition at 37½ cents each to stimulate sales. [18] Sales abroad, as in Britain where the book was a great success, earned Stowe nothing as there was no international copyright agreement in place during that era. [19] In late 1853 Stowe undertook a lecture tour of Britain and, to make up the royalties that she could not receive there, the Glasgow New Association for the Abolition of Slavery set up Uncle Tom's Offering. [20]

According to Daniel R. Vollaro, the goal of the book was to educate Northerners on the realistic horrors of the things that were happening in the South. The other purpose was to try to make people in the South feel more empathetic towards the people they were forcing into slavery. [21]

The book's emotional portrayal of the effects of slavery on individuals captured the nation's attention. Stowe showed that slavery touched all of society, beyond the people directly involved as masters, traders and slaves. Her novel added to the debate about abolition and slavery, and aroused opposition in the South. In the South, Stowe was depicted as out of touch, arrogant, and guilty of slander. Within a year, 300 babies in Boston alone were named Eva (one of the book's characters), and a play based on the book opened in New York in November. [22] Southerners quickly responded with numerous works of what are now called anti-Tom novels, seeking to portray Southern society and slavery in more positive terms. Many of these were bestsellers, although none matched the popularity of Stowe's work, which set publishing records. [ citation needed ]

After the start of the Civil War, Stowe traveled to the capital, Washington, D.C., where she met President Abraham Lincoln on November 25, 1862. [23] Stowe's daughter, Hattie, reported, "It was a very droll time that we had at the White house I assure you. I will only say now that it was all very funny—and we were ready to explode with laughter all the while." [24] What Lincoln said is a minor mystery. Her son later reported that Lincoln greeted her by saying, "so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." [25] Her own accounts are vague, including the letter reporting the meeting to her husband: "I had a real funny interview with the President." [24]

Later years Edit

A year after the Civil War, Stowe purchased property near Jacksonville, Florida. In response to a newspaper article in 1873, she wrote, "I came to Florida the year after the war and held property in Duval County ever since. In all this time I have not received even an incivility from any native Floridian." [26]

Stowe is controversial for her support of Elizabeth Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, whose father-in-law decades before was a leader in the Highland Clearances, the transformation of the remote Highlands of Scotland from a militia-based society to an agricultural one that supported far fewer people. The newly homeless moved to Canada, where very bitter accounts appeared. It was Stowe's assignment to refute them using evidence the Duchess provided, in Letter XVII Volume 1 of her travel memoir Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands. [27] Stowe was vulnerable when she seemed to defend the cruelties in Scotland as eagerly as she attacked the cruelties in the American South. [28]

In 1868, Stowe became one of the first editors of Hearth and Home magazine, one of several new publications appealing to women she departed after a year. [29] Stowe campaigned for the expansion of married women's rights, arguing in 1869 that: [30]

[T]he position of a married woman . is, in many respects, precisely similar to that of the negro slave. She can make no contract and hold no property whatever she inherits or earns becomes at that moment the property of her husband. Though he acquired a fortune through her, or though she earned a fortune through her talents, he is the sole master of it, and she cannot draw a penny. [I]n the English common law a married woman is nothing at all. She passes out of legal existence.

In the 1870s, Stowe's brother Henry Ward Beecher was accused of adultery, and became the subject of a national scandal. Unable to bear the public attacks on her brother, Stowe again fled to Florida but asked family members to send her newspaper reports. [31] Through the affair, she remained loyal to her brother and believed he was innocent. [32]

After her return to Connecticut, Mrs. Stowe was among the founders of the Hartford Art School, which later became part of the University of Hartford.

Following the death of her husband, Calvin Stowe, in 1886, Harriet started rapidly to decline in health. By 1888, The Washington Post reported that as a result of dementia the 77-year-old Stowe started writing Uncle Tom's Cabin over again. She imagined that she was engaged in the original composition, and for several hours every day she industriously used pen and paper, inscribing passages of the book almost exactly word for word. This was done unconsciously from memory, the author imagining that she composed the matter as she went along. To her diseased mind the story was brand new, and she frequently exhausted herself with labor which she regarded as freshly created. [33]

Mark Twain, a neighbor of Stowe's in Hartford, recalled her last years in the following passage of his autobiography:

Her mind had decayed, and she was a pathetic figure. She wandered about all the day long in the care of a muscular Irish woman. Among the colonists of our neighborhood the doors always stood open in pleasant weather. Mrs. Stowe entered them at her own free will, and as she was always softly slippered and generally full of animal spirits, she was able to deal in surprises, and she liked to do it. She would slip up behind a person who was deep in dreams and musings and fetch a war whoop that would jump that person out of his clothes. And she had other moods. Sometimes we would hear gentle music in the drawing-room and would find her there at the piano singing ancient and melancholy songs with infinitely touching effect. [34]

Modern researchers now speculate that at the end of her life she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. [35]

Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896, in Hartford, Connecticut, 17 days after her 85th birthday. She is buried in the historic cemetery at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, [36] along with her husband and their son Henry Ellis.

Landmarks Edit

Multiple landmarks are dedicated to the memory of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and are located in several states including Ohio, Florida, Maine and Connecticut. The locations of these landmarks represent various periods of her life such as her father's house where she grew up, and where she wrote her most famous work.

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. Her father was a preacher who was greatly affected by the pro-slavery Cincinnati Riots of 1836. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived here until her marriage. It is open to the public and operated as a historical and cultural site, focusing on Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Lane Seminary and the Underground Railroad. The site also presents African-American history. [37]

In the 1870s and 1880s, Stowe and her family wintered in Mandarin, Florida, now a neighborhood of modern consolidated Jacksonville, on the St. Johns River. Stowe wrote Palmetto Leaves while living in Mandarin, arguably an eloquent piece of promotional literature directed at Florida's potential Northern investors at the time. [38] The book was published in 1873 and describes Northeast Florida and its residents. In 1874, Stowe was honored by the governor of Florida as one of several northerners who had helped Florida's growth after the war. In addition to her writings inspiring tourists and settlers to the area, she helped establish a church and a school, and she helped promote oranges as a major state crop through her own orchards. [39] The school she helped establish in 1870 was an integrated school in Mandarin for children and adults. This 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. The Church of our Saviour is an Episcopal Church founded in 1880 by a group of people who had gathered for Bible readings with Professor Calvin E. Stowe and his famous wife. The house was constructed in 1883 which contained the Stowe Memorial stained glass window, created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. [40]

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine, is where Stowe lived when she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Her husband was teaching theology at nearby Bowdoin College, and she regularly invited students from the college and friends to read and discuss the chapters before publication. Future Civil War general, and later Governor, Joshua Chamberlain was then a student at the college and later described the setting. "On these occasions," Chamberlain noted, "a chosen circle of friends, mostly young, were favored with the freedom of her house, the rallying point being, however, the reading before publication, of the successive chapters of her Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the frank discussion of them." [ citation needed ] In 2001, Bowdoin College purchased the house, together with a newer attached building, and was able to raise the substantial funds necessary to restore the house. It is now open to the public.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, Connecticut, is the house where Stowe lived for the last 23 years of her life. It was next door to the house of fellow author Mark Twain. In this 5,000 sq ft (460 m 2 ) cottage-style house, there are many of Beecher Stowe'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 open to the public and offers house tours on the hour. [41]

In 1833, during Stowe's time in Cincinnati, the city was afflicted with a serious cholera epidemic. To avoid illness, Stowe made a visit to Washington, Kentucky, a major community of the era just south of Maysville. She stayed with the Marshall Key family, one of whose daughters was a student at Lane Seminary. It is recorded that Mr. Key took her to see a slave auction, as they were frequently held in Maysville. Scholars believe she was strongly moved by the experience. The Marshall Key home still stands in Washington. Key was a prominent Kentuckian his visitors also included Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. [42]

The Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site is part of the restored Dawn Settlement at Dresden, Ontario, which is 20 miles east of Algonac, Michigan. The community for freed slaves founded by the Rev. Josiah Henson and other abolitionists in the 1830s has been restored. There's also a museum. Henson and the Dawn Settlement provided Stowe with the inspiration for Uncle Tom's Cabin. [43]

Harriet Beecher Stowe - History

The house was home to Rev. Lyman Beecher and his large family, a prolific group of religious leaders, educators, writers, and antislavery and women's rights advocates. Harriet herself lived in the house for short periods of time throughout the 1830s. She continued to live in the Walnut Hills neighborhood until 1850. The extended Beecher family includes Harriet's sister, Catherine Beecher, an early female educator and writer who helped found numerous high schools and colleges for women brother Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, a leader of the women's suffrage movement and considered by some to be the most eloquent minister of his time General James Beecher, a Civil War general who commanded the first African-American troops in the Union Army recruited from the South and sister Isabella Beecher Hooker, a women's rights advocate.

The Beechers lived in Cincinnati for nearly 20 years, from 1832 to the early 1850's, before returning East. Shortly after leaving Cincinnati and basing her writing on her experiences in Cincinnati, in 1851-1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe authored the best-selling book of its time, Uncle Tom's Cabin, a fictionalized popular account of the pain slavery imposed on its victims and of the difficult struggles of slaves to escape and travel, on the Underground Railroad, to freedom in the northern states or Canada. Published just after the draconian fugitive slave laws were enacted by the US Congress in 1850, the book made Harriet Beecher Stowe's name a household word in the United States. Uncle Tom's Cabin has been published in over 75 languages and is still an important text used in schools all over the world. Written at a time when women did not vote, have legal rights, or even speak in public meetings, Uncle Tom's Cabin became an important part of the social fabric and thought that eventually caused the Civil War to break out and the southern slaves to be emancipated by President Abraham Lincoln, effective in 1863. Uncle Tom's Cabin is a remarkable example of how one person can make a huge impact to improve the lives of millions of people.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, he is said to have exclaimed, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"

Interested in learning more?

Harriet Beecher Stowe has been the subject of two Pulitzer Prize winning biographies. Joan Hedrick was awarded the 1995 Prize for Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life and Forrest Wilson won the award in 1941 for Crusader in Crinoline. Both provide detailed descriptions of Harriet's eighteen years in Cincinnati.

Hedrick, Joan. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Wilson, Forrest. Crusader in Crinoline. J. B. Lippincott Company , 1941 .

Additional Resources

Abzug, Robert. Passionate Liberator- Theodore Weld and the Dilemma of Reform. New York:Oxford University Press, 1980. (This book details the Lane Seminary debates, which left an indelible mark on Harriet.)

Hagedorn, Ann. Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.(Set in Cincinnati and Ripley Ohio, this book describes life in the area during Harriet's time)

Lerner, Gerda. The Grimke Sisters- Pioneers For Women's Rights and Abolition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. (An in-depth look into the lives of the sisters who turned away from comfort and privilege in South Carolina to attack slavery at its core. Harriet and Angelina Grimke, the future wife of Theodore Weld, met in Connecticut before Harriet moved to Cincinnati.)

Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1998. ( Michael Winston of The Washington Post writes, " Henry Mayer has written one of the best accounts we are ever likely to have of how one man's idealistic belief in the possibility of moral regeneration and political transformation came to be realized. a monumental work of historical biography.")

Harriet Beecher Stowe - History

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House hosted many educators, ministers, and antislavery advocates in the 18 years the Beechers called Walnut Hills home. During this time, both Harriet Stowe and Calvin Stowe took part in the abolitionist, civil and human rights, and Underground Railroad movements. Their involvement played a crucial role in the importance of this historic monument. Though they spent much of their time separated in support of these movements, their devotion to their respective causes and each other was unwavering.

The residence was originally designated a historic site in 1946 within the Ohio History Connection Network, a statewide organization with the mission to spark discovery of Ohio&rsquos stories. Since then, the house in Walnut Hills has undergone a number of changes, the most recent being a plan to renovate the house to be more consistent with the style of the 1830s. Though the plans have just begun, the hope is to have renovations completed within the next three years.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House is operated mainly as a historical and cultural site focusing on Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Beyond this primary focus, the information in the house also takes a look into the Lane Seminary and the family, friends, and colleagues of the Beecher-Stowe family. The 20th century history of the House continues that legacy and incorporates ideals of the Civil Rights movement.

Land Acknowledgment

The Friends of Harriet Beecher Stowe House respectfully acknowledge that lands on which we stand are the traditional Chippewa, Delaware, Kickapoo, Miami, Osage, Ottawa, Peoria, Potawatomi, Shawnee, and Wyandot lands. We extend our esteem and gratitude to the Indigenous people who call this place home.

Accuracy confirmed by the Ohio History Connection. Approved by the board of the Friends of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House 06/24/21.

Was Harriet Beecher Stowe an Abolitionist?

T he Emmy-nominated PBS series The Abolitionists, which focused on the biographies of five prominent abolitionists, should have replaced Harriet Beecher Stowe with another famous Harriet, Harriet Tubman. Not only should the series have included at least one black abolitionist woman but, unknown to most, Stowe’s stance on abolition and black rights also changed over the course of her long career. Stowe remained in the series because of the iconic status of her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. On the 164th anniversary of its publication, one is forced to acknowledge the enormous impact her book had on the movement to abolish slavery

In the decade before the Civil War, slave narratives and antislavery fiction captured the public imagination. Writers like Stowe created a literature of protest that popularized antislavery and replaced newspapers and pamphlets as the most potent tools of abolitionist print culture. Written in response to the draconian Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published serially in the national organ of political antislavery, Gamaliel Bailey’s The National Era, and its enormous popularity led Stowe to publish it as a book in 1852.

Modeling her story and many of its characters on real life fugitives such as Josiah Henson, Lewis Clarke, and Henry Bibb, and on abolitionists and “conductors” in the underground railroad such as John Rankin, Levi and Catherine Coffin, and Thomas and Rachel Garrett, Stowe crafted a narrative with special resonance that was difficult for detractors to dismiss as just a work of fiction. Instead, Stowe’s book became a literary phenomenon that established its author as an international celebrity, and it no doubt contributed to the apocryphal story of Abraham Lincoln greeting her in the 1860s as the “little woman” who had caused the “great war.”

Ironically, though, even as Uncle Tom’s Cabin met with a hostile reception in the South as abolitionist propaganda and southern authors responded to it with a wave of highly forgettable “anti-Tom novels,” Stowe’s politics were actually much closer to the colonizationist movement that true abolitionists saw as an appeasement of slavery. Ever since the founding of the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1816, antislavery gradualists and some slaveholders had advocated the repatriation of free blacks to Africa as a means of eliminating slavery from the United States. The radical interracial abolition movement, which championed immediate abolition and black rights at home, arose in reaction to it, but Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father, Reverend Lyman Beecher, and her sister, Catherine Beecher, remained colonizationists and were critical of the radicalism of interracial abolitionism and of the movement for women’s rights. Stowe’s husband, Reverend Calvin Stowe, opposed the abolitionist student rebels who organized where he taught at Lane Seminary. Stowe herself was not a member of any female antislavery society, and in her family only her brother Edward Beecher identified as an abolitionist prior to the 1850s.

Like many antislavery northerners, some of the Beechers moved closer to abolition in the crisis decade before the war. Stowe’s sister Isabella Beecher Hooker, for example, became a suffragist, and in 1851, her brother Charles Beecher published one of the most influential “higher law” tracts protesting the fugitive slave law, entitled The Duty of Disobedience to Wicked Laws. Still another of Stowe’s brothers, a famous minister named Henry Ward Beecher, attracted large crowds with fiery sermons and the theatrical auctioning off of fugitive slaves to raise money for their purchase. But Harriet Beecher Stowe continued to advocate an “intermediate society” between abolition and colonization, and the language and spirit of colonization clearly brackets Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the novel’s preface, for example, she calls for an “enlightened and Christianized community . . . on the shores of Africa, laws, language and literature drawn from us,” and the book ends with the escaped slave George Harris endorsing the colonizationist project and rejecting the independent black republic of Haiti as “worn-out” and “effeminate” in comparison to the ACS colony of Liberia.

In addition to supporting a program of colonization, Stowe’s novel reproduced sectional, racial, and gender stereotypes: the cruel Yankee slaveholder Simon Legree the benevolent southern aristocrat Augustine St. Clare and racialist descriptions of both black characters such as Topsy and white characters such as Eva. Stowe refers to Africans as an exotic race, and she feminizes Uncle Tom as a morally superior, Christ-like figure who is ennobled by his suffering. Tom is a resistance figure after his own fashion, of course, refusing to rat on his fellow slaves even as he knows it will mean his own death. But Stowe’s portrayal of Tom as a pious martyr was out of sync with abolitionist activism, making “Uncle Tom” an epithet down to the present.

Abolitionists certainly saw value in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The heroic enslaved women in the novel, like Eliza, were first and foremost devoted mothers, and in a largely forgotten essay black activist Mary Church Terrell appreciated the gendered solidarity Stowe expressed with enslaved women and empathized with Stowe’s own trials as a wife and mother. William Lloyd Garrison, meanwhile, hailed the novel as a tool for mass conversion, but he, like others, was alert to Stowe’s romantic racialism. “Is there one law of submission and non resistance for the black man,” he asked, “and another law of rebellion and conflict for the white man?” Black abolitionist William J. Wilson was concerned most about the cultural influence of the character of Uncle Tom, observing how quickly he had supplanted racially derogatory minstrel characters such as Zip Coon and Jim Crow.

Perhaps the most interesting debate over the meaning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin took place between Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany, a proponent of black emigration. Where Douglass was a booster of Stowe from the start, Delany denounced her as a colonizationist. In a nineteenth century version of debates over successful white artists appropriating black art forms, Delany went on to accuse Stowe of stealing material from slave narratives, and even suggested that Henson ought to receive a portion of her royalties.

Indeed, the popularity of Stowe’s novel led to a revival of the slave narrative genre, with black authors responding explicitly to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Solomon Northup, for example, dedicated his Twelve Years a Slave (1853) to Stowe, but differentiated his factual account from her fictional one. Thomas Jones added to his narrative a novella entitled Wild Tom, in which Tom is a rebellious slave who is burned alive in the end.

Stowe heard the abolitionist critiques of her novel and responded as she thought best. She fashioned herself as a patron of black writers, writing prefaces for a new edition of Henson’s narrative and of Frank J. Webb’s novel The Garies and Their Friends (1857). She also wrote a follow-up work to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the much less famous Dred (1856), which showcases slave resistance with a main character who is the son of Denmark Vesey and modeled on Nat Turner. Like many fair-weather friends of abolition, however, Harriet Beecher Stowe (and, for that matter, her brother Henry Ward Beecher) reverted to a more conservative stance after the Civil War brought about emancipation. She wrote thirty more books, almost none of which had anything at all to do with the legacy of slavery or the problem of race.

But her landmark novel had forever linked her to the movement to abolish slavery.

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About the Author

Manisha Sinha is Professor and Graduate Program Director of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She was born in India and received her doctorate from Columbia University, where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft Prize. She is currently working on a co-authored history of the South, to be published by the University of North Carolina Press. She is the author of The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition and The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina.


Thank you for saying so! We interpret the lives of radical abolitionists Rowland and Rachel Robinson at Rokeby Museum and know that the Robinsons considered the Beecher clan to be Johnny come lately’s. I understand why the creators of the PBS series wanted to include Stowe – she’s famous! – but so is Harriet Tubman, and much more deserving.

Manisha Sinha says:

Thank you Jane, the Robinsons are some of the unsung abolitionists who should really be better known!

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Harriet Beecher Stowe - History

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) published more than 30 books, but it was her best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin that catapulted her to international celebrity and secured her place in history. She believed her actions could make a positive difference. Her words changed the world.


Discover more information on the Beecher family here, and visit the Newman Baruch library at CUNY.

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, CT to the Rev. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) and Roxanna Foote Beecher (1775-1816), the sixth of 11 children.

The Beechers expected their children to shape the world around them:

  • All seven sons became ministers, then the most effective way to influence society
  • Oldest daughter Catharine pioneered education for women
  • Youngest daughter Isabella was a founder of the National Women’s Suffrage Association
  • Harriet believed her purpose in life was to write. Her most famous work exposed the truth about the greatest social injustice of her day, human slavery
Family Life

When Harriet was five years old, her mother died and her oldest sister
Catharine assumed much of the responsibility for raising her younger
siblings. Harriet showed early literary promise: At seven, she won a
school essay contest, earning praise from her father. Harriet’s later
pursuit of painting and drawing honored her mother’s talents.

Her father’s second wife, Harriet Porter Beecher (1800-1835), was a
beautiful woman slightly overwhelmed by the eight boisterous children
she inherited. Her own children, Isabella, Thomas and James, added to
the noisy household.

In Litchfield, and on frequent visits to her grandmother in Guilford, CT, Harriet and her sisters and brothers played, read, hiked, and joined their father in games and exercises. Many of these childhood events were incorporated in her last novel Poganuc People (1878).

Daguerreotype, Beecher Family Portrait, Matthew Brady Studios, 1859


As a young girl, Harriet took part in lively debates at the family table. By discussing current events and social issues, Harriet learned how to argue persuasively.

She began her formal education at Sarah Pierce’s academy, one of the earliest institutions to encourage girls to study academic subjects in addition to the traditional ornamental arts.

In 1824, Harriet became first a student and then a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, founded by sister Catharine. There, she furthered her writing talents, spending many hours composing essays.

In 1832, 21-year-old Harriet Beecher moved with her family to Cincinnati, OH when her father

Lyman was appointed President of Lane Theological Seminary. There she met and married Calvin Stowe, a theology professor she described as “rich in Greek & Hebrew, Latin & Arabic, & alas! rich in nothing else…”

Six of Stowe’s seven children were born in Cincinnati. In the summer of 1849, Stowe experienced for the first time the sorrow of many 19th century parents when her 18-month-old son, Samuel Charles Stowe, died of cholera. Stowe later credited that crushing pain as one of the inspirations for Uncle Tom’s Cabin because it helped her understand the pain enslaved mothers felt when their children were sold away from them.

In 1850 Calvin Stowe joined the faculty of his alma mater, Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, ME. The Stowe family moved and lived in Brunswick until 1853.

Stowe Home, Brunswick, Maine

After the Civil War, the Stowes purchased a house and property in Mandarin, FL on the St. John’s River and began to travel south each winter. The relatively mild winters of northern Florida were a welcome respite from Hartford’s cold and the high costs of winter fuel.

The Beechers and the Stowes knew that racial equality required more than legislation it also required education. Stowe’s brother Charles Beecher (1815-1900) opened a Florida school to teach emancipated people and he had urged Calvin and Harriet Stowe to join him.

Newly expanded railroads made shipping citrus fruits north a potentially lucrative business. Stowe purchased an orange grove which she hoped her son Frederick would manage.

Harriet Beecher Stowe loved Florida, comparing its soft climate to Italy, and she published Palmetto Leaves (1873), describing the beauties and advantages of the state. Stowe and her family wintered in Mandarin for more than 15 years before Calvin’s health prohibited long travel.

Stowe was less than half way through her life when she published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She continued to write and work to improve society for most of her days. From Brunswick, the Stowes moved to Andover, MA, where Calvin was a professor of theology at Andover Theological Seminary (1853-1864).

After his retirement, the family moved to Hartford, CT. There, Harriet Beecher Stowe built her dream house, Oakholm, in Nook Farm, a neighborhood full of friends and relatives. The high maintenance cost and encroaching factories led her to sell her mansion in 1870. In 1873, Harriet, along with her husband and two adult daughters, settled into a brick Victorian Gothic cottage on Forest Street where she remained for 23 years.

While living in Hartford, Stowe undertook two speaking tours, one along the east coast, the second taking her to the western states. Promoting progressive ideals, she worked to reinvigorate the art museum at the Wadsworth Atheneum and establish the Hartford Art School, later part of the University of Hartford.

Stowe wrote some of her best known works, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while living in Hartford: The American Woman’s Home (1869), Lady Byron Vindicated (1871) and Poganuc People (1878).


A comprehensive bibliography for Harriet Beecher Stowe can be found at the University of Pennsylvania website.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writing career spanned 51 years. She published 30 books and countless short stories, poems, articles, and hymns. She learned early that her writing contributed to the family income. With her writing, Stowe could publicly express her thoughts and beliefs in a time when women were discouraged from public speaking, and could not vote or hold office.

Stowe’s publishing career began before her marriage with:

  • Primary Geography for Children (1833)
    Her sympathetic approach to Catholicism, unusual for its time, won her the praise of the local bishop.
  • New England Sketches (1835)
    A short story collection.

These were followed after marriage by:

  • The Mayflower: Sketches of Scenes and Characters among the Descendants of the Pilgrim (1843)
  • The Coral Ring (1843)
    A short story which promoted temperance and an anti-slavery tract.
  • Numerous articles, essays and short stories published regularly in newspapers and journals

In 1851, The National Era publisher Gamaliel Bailey contracted with Stowe for a story that would “paint a word picture of slavery” and that would run in installments in the abolitionist newspaper. Stowe expected Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly to be three or four chapters. She wrote more than 40.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought Stowe financial security and allowed her to write full time. She published multiple works each year including three other antislavery works: The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853) documenting the case histories on which she had based Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), a forceful anti-slavery novel, and The Minister’s Wooing (1859) encouraging a more forgiving form of Christianity.

Other Notable Works
  • The American Woman’s Home
    A practical guide to homemaking, co-authored with sister Catharine Beecher
  • Lady Byron Vindicated
    Which strove to defend Stowe’s friend lady Byron while immersing Stowe herself in scandal.

Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker (1822-1907)
An ardent member of the woman’s suffrage movement, Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker joined in the cause along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Isabella was the first child of Lyman Beecher and his second wife, Harriet Porter Beecher.

Isabella began her education at Catharine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary and lived with her sister Mary Perkins. In 1841 she married John Hooker, a descendant of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Hartford. John Hooker was a lawyer and an abolitionist.

In the early 1860s Isabella got involved in the woman’s suffrage movement. Isabella joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as a member of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She was a founding member of the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association. Isabella’s ideas of equality were influenced by John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty and the Subjection of Women.

In 1871, Isabella organized the annual convention of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in Washington D.C. and presented her argument before the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate. Her husband, John Hooker, believed in his wife and supported her activities. He helped Isabella draft a bill to the Connecticut Legislature giving married women the same property rights as their husbands. The bill passed in 1877. Isabella annually submitted a bill granting women the right to vote, but it did not pass in her lifetime.

Due to inclement weather, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is closed today, Monday, December 2.

When President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, he exclaimed “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!” He was referring to her book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” where Harriet expressed her moral outrage at the institution of slavery in the United States and exposed its harmful effects on both whites and blacks.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on June 14, 1811 in into one of America’s most notable religious families. The Beecher family was at the forefront of numerous reform movements of the 19th century. Born the seventh child of the well known Congregational minister Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote Beecher, she was their fourth daughter. Her father was a persuasive preacher, theologian, and founder of the American Bible Society, who also was active in the anti-slavery movement. Her mother was a woman of prayer, who asked the Lord to put the call of service on her children’s hearts. This prayer was eventually answered in a mighty way. All the Beecher children spent their lives living out their Christian faith.

While Harriet’s life was not without trials, she appears to have had a relatively good family life. When she was only four years old, her mother died, leaving her father to become the dominant adult influence upon the home. While it must have been difficult to both support the family financially as well emotionally, it appears he did a fine job raising his family. According to Harriet, he made the home a kind of “moral heaven”, discussing theology over family apple peelings and always keeping before them the haloed memory of their dear mother. Her father did remarry a few years after her mothers death, but Roxana children never quite took to their stepmother and continued to cling to their father for love and spiritual guidance. While Lyman struggled with mood swings and often felt like he couldn’t go on, the sincere way he lived his life inspired in all his children a quiet ambition for some large service. And Harriet was no exception.

Harriet was given a good education. At eight she began to attend the famed school of Miss Sarah Peirce in Litchfield, where she studied until she was thirteen when she left home to attend the female seminary recently opened by her sister Catharine in Hartford. Harriet was quite shy and kept to herself, but she loved to read and write. Among her favorite books were Scott’s “Ballads” and “Arabian Nights”, which no doubt had much to do with cultivating her imagination.

While home during the summer leave when she was thirteen years old, Harriet gave her life to Christ during one of her father’s sermons and felt the assurance of Christ’s saving love. Within the Beecher family, private conversion was intertwined with a public calling, and this decision to follow Christ would shape the rest of Harriet’s life.

At the age of fifteen she became an assistant to her sister Catharine in the female seminary and continued teaching there until 1832 when the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where Lyman felt called to “win the West for God”. Lyman became President of Lane Theological Seminary and Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church and Catharine founded the Western Female Institute. Harriet taught in Catherine’s school and wrote a children’s geography text, which was her first publication, though the first edition was issued under her sisters name.
It was here that, Harriet met Calvin Stowe, a professor and clergyman fervently opposed to slavery. In 1836, at the age of 25, Harriet married Professor Stowe, a widower, who was nine years her senior. They were to have seven children together and Harriet proved to be a fine homemaker as she lovingly cared for her children, which was her main priority. She saw motherhood as sacredly sacrificial and set out to follow her calling of raising children that loved and served God. But Calvin’s teaching position did not provide a sufficient wage, so in order to supplement Calvin’s meager teaching salary, Harriet wrote short stories dealing with domestic life for local and religious magazines and papers. Her royalties helped her hire household staff to assist with running the household and raising her children.

Calvin and Harriet were blessed with a loving marriage. Both encouraged and comforted each other during the trials and tribulations that came their way. During their lifetime they lost four of their seven children and had many financial setbacks. While they did not have a perfect marriage, their loving commitment grew solidly over the years. At one point Harriet wrote to her husband of many years, “If you were not already my dearly beloved husband, I should certainly fall in love with you.” Calvin encouraged Harriet to establish a writing career, and he served as her literary agent in both America and England. She in turn encouraged him to write himself and he, too, met with some success.

While they lived in Ohio, the work of the Underground Railroad deeply touched both Calvin and Harriet. Their house was one of the many “stations” for the fugitive slaves on their way to freedom in Canada. They sheltered runaway slaves in their home until they move to Maine when Calvin accepted a position at Bowdoin College in 1850.

Throughout Americas history, the slavery issue has been hotly debated. By the late 1840’s the abolitionist movement had expanded, roused by newspaper editors, lecturers, authors, and clergymen. For abolitionists, nothing justified slavery. It was in this environment that Mrs. Stowe wrote her famous novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In this book, Harriet dispelled the myth that benevolent masters treated their slaves adequately. She showed that even kind-hearted slave owners would separate slave families and sell them “down the river” when they were desperate for cash. Harriet drew on her own personal experience with slavery in writing her book. She was familiar slavery, the anti-slavery movement, and the underground railroad because she spent many years living in Ohio, and Kentucky, a neighboring state across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, was a slave state.

It was soon after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that Harriet wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. The Fugitive Slave Act granted Southerners the right to pursue fugitive slaves into free states and bring them back. This law aroused may abolitionists to action. When the South threatened to secede, Harriet determined that she would write a serial condemning the evils of slavery. First printed as a serial in an abolitionist paper, The National Era, it focused public interest on the issue of slavery, and was deeply controversial. In 1852 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was printed in book form. It sold 3,000 copies on its first day, 300,000 its first year, and eventually sold more than 3,000,000 copies world wide.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was the first major American novel to feature a Black hero. Harriet created memorable characters who portrayed the inhumanity of slavery making her readers understand that slaves were people who were being mistreated and made to suffer at the hands of their masters. Through her novel, Harriet insisted that slavery eroded the moral sensibility of whites who tolerated or profited from it. She wrote passionately to prick the consciences of fellow Americans to end their blind allegiance to slavery.

Many people of her day argued that her novel was merely fiction and not at all based on fact. To disprove these accusations and prove that her depiction of slavery was factual, in 1853, Harriet wrote “A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which presented the original facts and documents upon which she based her novel.

The historical significance of Harriet’s abolitionists writing has veiled from view her other work and literary significance. Her writings were varied and in many different genre. She wrote both fiction and biography along with children’s books. Some feel that her best works are about New England life such as “The Ministers Wooing” and “Old Town Folks”, where her settings were accurately described in detail. Her portraits of local social life, particularly of minor characters, reflect and ability to communicate to others the culture in which she lived.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

The theme of this year’s Teaching American History Saturday webinars is American Minds. Prominent scholars will discuss individuals who made significant social, cultural, or political contributions to the American identity. On 7 December 2019, join panelists Chris Burkett (Ashland University), Bill Allen (Michigan State University), and David Krugler (University of Wisconsin) to explore the life, ideas, letters, and impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Below, you’ll find selected passages from each of the readings to be discussed — we hope these will inspire you to read more in each text in order to better understand Stowe’s work.

Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Rambler, November 1852

(Note that already in 1852 the reviewer says at least nine editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin had already been published!)

The story comes before us as an attack upon slavery, on account of the horrors inherent in and necessary to the system but perhaps the unfitness of a work of fiction as an instrument of religious or political propagandism was never more strikingly exemplified. … As far as we can judge, the present abolition of slavery in the southern states of America would be a greater evil than its continuance and our objection to books like the one under consideration, as well as to the use that is being made of it, and the whole conduct of the abolitionist party in general, is this, that they are injuring the cause they wish to serve, and that by their means the sympathies of the good are misdirected, and their attention diverted from the true bearings of the case, and the only true source of remedy.

Letter to Daniel Goodloe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 9 February 1853

As to all this little flutter of crimination and recrimination between England and America, about slavery and the state of the poor in England, I fancy it will do good on both sides. It will not hurt our respectable sister, Mrs. Bull, to know that her housekeeping is open to investigation as well as ours, and the only way that truth ever comes out is by this kind of sifting. The discussion will undoubtedly strength the hands of those who are seeking to elevate the lower classes of England, and so good will be done all around.

Letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, 8 March 1853

I desire to express, dear Madam, my deep sense of the value of the services which you have already rendered my afflicted and persecuted people, by the publication of your inimitable book on the subject of slavery. That contribution to our bleeding cause, alone, involves us in a debt of gratitude which cannot be measured and your resolution to make other exertions on our behalf excites in me emotions and sentiments, which I scarcely need try to give forth in words. Suffice it to say, that I believe you to have the blessings of your enslaved countrymen and countrywomen and the still higher reward which comes to the soul in the smiles of our merciful Heavenly father, whose ear is ever open to the cries of the oppressed.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Changed History

When the Fugitive Slave Act went into effect, panic spread among blacks. Outrage spread among the abolitionists. Isabella Beecher wrote an impassioned letter to her sister-in-law, Harriet Beecher Stowe. "Oh Hatty," she wrote. "If I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that will make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is."

Years later, Hatty’s older children still remembered the scene when their mother read Isabella’s letter out loud to them in the parlor and they never forgot the fervency of her determination to write the book. Hatty wrote feverishly, as one possessed — and she was — she was consumed by her passion and her sense of calling to this crucial task. She devoured everything she could find about slavery and listened to former slaves so that she could tell their stories.

The book that Hatty wrote was first published in serial stories. They became an overnight sensation. One of her biographers wrote: "It was a powerful novel, filled with memorable characters and incidents drawn from life, and, unlike any novel before, its hero, Uncle Tom, was a black man — a courageous slave, moreover, whose dignity and strength grew not out of resignation but from a profound Christian faith." Langston Hughes, black author and poet, described Uncle Tom as a "gentle black Christ who turned the other cheek."

The book catapulted the problem of slavery into the national spotlight. Harriet described slavery as "the next worst thing to Hell." She also put a human face on slavery — copies of the series were passed around "as if the tear stains on them were sacred." Through Uncle Tom, readers came to understand that slaves were human beings who were suffering cruelly. Her book has been called "one of the most effective pieces of reform literature ever published." When Harriet Beecher Stowe met Abraham Lincoln, he remarked, "So, this is the little lady who started this big war!"

Such is the power of the pen. When the book was published March 13, 1852, it broke all sales records: selling 3,000 copies the first day, eventually more than 3 million copies were sold worldwide, and it has been translated into more than 20 languages. Tolstoy considered the book to be a "great work of literature." Alfred Kazin wrote that the book "is the most powerful and most enduring work of art ever written about American slavery." Elizabeth Barrett Browning declared that Harriet’s powerful writing had, more than any other man or woman of her era, "moved the world for good."

What made the book so powerful?

Harriet asserted that "she did not write ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘ God wrote it and she served merely as His instrument." She also believed that the book "had its root in the awful scenes and bitter sorrow" of the summer that her son died. She explained, "It was at his dying bed and at his grave that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her." Mrs. Stowe went on to write, "I felt I could never be consoled for [the death of her baby, Charley, in 1849] unless this crushing of my own heart might enable me to work out some great good to others." Her obedience to that call and her faithfulness to that mission produced "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" — a book that not only "moved the world," but was also a novel "unparalleled among works of fiction for its impact on contemporary opinion."

Harriet’s background prepared her to write hymns and stories with deeply spiritual messages her father was Lyman Beecher a famous preacher and seminary president. Beecher was reputed to have fathered more brains than any other man in America — all of his sons became outstanding, influential clergymen and three of his four daughters became famous and influential. Harriet’s brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was a distinguished preacher and reformer and her husband was a respected theologian and Bible scholar.

Harriet described herself as "a little bit of a woman, somewhat more than forty, about as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff, never very much to look at in my best days and looking like a used up article now."

In many respects, Harriet’s description was accurate by then she was "used up" physically. For almost 30 years, she produced a book a year and writing, on top of all her other responsibilities, was like "rowing against wind and tide." And, while "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" was a remarkable success and booksellers couldn’t keep up with the demand for the book, there were outspoken critic of the book as well. Harriet was called a "wicked authoress" and a "vile wretch in petticoats" the book was called "detestable and monstrous" and Harriet lived with constant threats and barrages of obscene letters.

Harriet never lost her masterful use of language. Toward the end of her life, she wrote, "I feel about all things now as I do about the things that happen in a hotel, after my trunk is packed to go home." She had fought the good fight, had been faithful to her talent and calling, now she was ready to leave for a better place. She suffered a mild stroke, afterwards writing to Oliver Wendell Holmes, "I make no mental effort of any sort my brain is tired out. … And now I rest me, like a moored boat, rising and falling on the water, with loosened cordage and flapping sail." When she died, there was a lovely wreath on her grave with a simple card from "The Children of Uncle Tom," sent by former slaves in Boston.

Watch the video: The True Story Behind Uncle Toms Cabin, The Book that Rocked Pre-Civil War America


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