Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, the seventh child of Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher.
Stowe studied at private schools in Connecticut and worked as a teacher in Hartford for five years until her father moved to Cincinnati in 1832. She accompanied him and continued to teach while writing stories and essays. In 1836, she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, with whom she had seven children. She published her first book, Mayflower, in 1843.
While living in Cincinnati, Stowe encountered fugitive slaves and the Underground Railroad. Later, she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in reaction to recently tightened fugitive laws. The book sold some 300,000 copies and did much to galvanize public opinion in the North against slavery. Stowe traveled to England in 1853, where she was welcomed as a literary hero. Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, she became one of the original contributors to The Atlantic, which launched in November 1857. In 1863, when Lincoln announced the end of slavery, she danced in the streets. Stowe continued to write throughout her life and died in 1896.
READ MORE: Abolitionist Movement
Harriet B. Stowe
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 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 fugitive 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 fugitive 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 fugitive 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 them 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, Connecticut. She continued to write and published thirty books before her death in 1896.
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 Beecher Stowe, Author and Abolitionist
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s most memorable contribution to society was her book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The responses to Stowe’s work were so powerfully divisive that Abraham Lincoln upon meeting her said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” -Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Early Days
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June 14, 1811, into a large, well-respected family in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her father Lyman Beecher was a minister, The Literature Network states, and her mother Roxanna Foote Beecher died when Harriet was still very young.
When Harriet was six her father remarried a woman named Harriet Porter whom the family quickly embraced. Harriet’s siblings, Henry, Catherine and half-sister Isabella would later become some of the most influential abolitionists, educators and suffragists of their time, writes the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
After moving to Ohio, Stowe joined literary circles and taught at her sister’s school. In 1836, Stowe married clergyman, scholar and widower, Calvin Ellis Stowe, with whom she had seven children only three survived their parents. She and her husband once helped hide one of the family’s servants, who was being chased from Kentucky by her former owner. The family later moved to Maine where Stowe began writing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Sources in this Story
Stowe’s Notable Works
Stowe co-authored a geography book with her sister and then published her first book on her own, “The Mayflower.” Stowe’s growing aversion to The Fugitive Slave Act motivated her to write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” or “Life among the Lowly.” It was first published as a serial for the “National Era” in 1851, and then re-published as a book in two volumes.
In one scene, she called on readers to imagine being a slave and having your child taken away: “If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, tomorrow morning,—if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape,—how fast could you walk?”
In addition to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Stowe also authored several novels, including a second novel about slavery entitled “Dred, A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp.”
Unfortunately for Stowe, in the 1850s several playwrights including George L. Aiken developed musicals and later films that obscured or purposefully misrepresented her anti-slavery message. Known as “Tom shows,” many of the shows marginalized Uncle Tom treating him as a minstrel rather than a hero, explains The Lost Museum.
Songs were written about the book and for the musicals. Ironically, the popular confederate song “Dixie” was even used in some productions. Recordings as well as lyrics can be found at the Web site Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture.
The Woman and Her Work
The Rest of the Story
During her life, Stowe befriended a host of abolitionists and authors, including Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain, her neighbor. She corresponded with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She died on July 1, 1896, at her home in Connecticut.
This article was originally written by Shannon Firth it was updated May 19, 2017.
Family tree of Harriet BEECHER STOWE
Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the seventh of 13 children, born to outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher and Roxana (Foote), a deeply religious woman who died when Stowe was only five years old. Her notable siblings included a sister, Catharine Beecher, who was an educator and author, as well brothers who became ministers: including Henry Ward Beecher, Charles Beecher, and Edward Beecher.
Harriet enrolled in the seminary (girls' school) run by her sister Catharine, where she received a traditionally "male" education in the classics, including study of languages and mathematics. Among her classmates there was Sarah P. Willis, who later wrote under the pseudonym Fanny Fern. At the age of 21, she 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, Emily Blackwell, and others.
It was in that group that she met Calvin Ellis Stowe, a widower and professor at the seminary. The two married on January 6, 1836. He was an ardent critic of slavery, and the Stowes supported the Underground Railroad, temporarily housing several fugitive slaves in their home. They had seven children together, including twin daughters.
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The map below shows the places where the ancestors of the famous person lived.
Harriet Beecher Stowe: American Abolitionist & Author
Harriet Beecher Stowe was a high class women, reformer, and writer in the 1800’s. She wrote many anti-slavery documents that helped reform society. You may know her as the writer of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best-selling book in the 1800’s about how bad slavery was.
Because of the encouragement if her husband, Calvin E. Stowe, she became one of the most famous writers, reformers, and abolitionist women of the 1800’s. Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe was born on June 14, 1811, in Linchfeild, Connecticut. Her father, Reverend Lyman Beecher, raised her in a strong, religious, abolitionist environment. She was also very well educated. In 1832, she moved to Cincinnati with her father. There she learned about slavery that was taking place in the state underneath her. In 1836, she married Calvin E. Stowe, a collage professor who encouraged her writing, that was soon to make her one of the famous women in American history. A few years later she moved to Maine because her husband was excepted into a college as a professor. Harriet Beecher Stowe is well known for her well written anti-slavery document, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of Harriet’s Most potent pieces of writing.
It was also the 1800’s best selling book. She may also be known for her other, not so famous, anti-slavery documents known as the following: Dread: the Tale of the Great Dismissal Swamp, The Minister’s Wooing, The Pearl of Orr’s Island, and The Oldtown Folks. These books may not have been her best pieces of anti-slavery writing, but it still helped influenced many people into going against slavery and trying to stop it. Harriet Beecher Stowe may be significant because she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but she is significant in other ways. Back during the time of slavery no one would listen to what an African American would have to say, let alone an African American slave. It was very odd in that time to be a rich, high class woman and not own a slave. But, because of the encouragement of her husband, and the way she was raised as a child she was against slavery, and she tried to reform society. By her writing ability and knowledge of slavery she wrote anti-slavery documents that almost every northerner read. The pieces of work influenced many people.
A lot of people would try to stop slavery, just as Harriet would. If Harriet Beecher Stowe wouldn’t have written her stories people probably wouldn’t have been as influenced, and society today wouldn’t be the same. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the most famous abolitionist woman of the 1800’s. She was a high-class women who greatly influenced people in her writing on anti-slavery. She wrote many other anti-slavery documents that influenced many people into becoming abolitionist and reformers of society. Her husband and father were a great influence on her writing. Harriet Beecher Stowe is well known for her masterpiece, Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was the best selling book of the 1800’s.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe, author and abolitionist, was deeply moved by the inhumane conditions of slavery. Having talked with slaves who escaped across the Kentucky-Ohio border, she was compelled to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851), a novel that furthered the development of abolitionist sentiment within the country. Through her passionate writing, the men, women, and children who suffered under slavery were personalized in a way that raised awareness and created compassion.
One would not expect her to come to the South so soon after the Civil War, but she chose Mandarin as her winter home in 1867. She first assisted her son Frederick as he began a cotton farm operation at “Laurel Grove” (now Orange Park) in Clay County. They had to row across the St. Johns to pick up the mail in Mandarin, and it is said that she fell in love with the area and wanted it for her winter refuge. Though she was not welcomed by all in the area, 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.”
Her “cottage” was on the river just east of the location of today’s Mandarin Community Club. It became a meeting place for Bible studies taught by her husband Calvin, often meeting on the large front porch facing the river. Oranges from her grove were shipped to the North on the local steamships. She was very active in community life. Her family helped organize the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, and she was instrumental in convincing the Freedman’s Bureau to build a school for African-American children in Mandarin. She and her daughters even organized and acted in plays performed in the community. Her stories about Mandarin appeared in Northern periodicals and are compiled in her book Palmetto Leaves (1872), and later in Calling Yankees to Florida – Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Forgotten Tourist Articles (2013), edited by John T. Foster, Jr. and Sarah Whitman Foster. Her articles are credited with boosting the winter tourist industry in Florida because of her lovely descriptions of the temperate winter weather, the live oaks, Spanish moss, orange blossoms, fruit and flowers in Florida.
Stowe’s fame was phenomenal. Her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a best seller and was, and continues to be read by people in countries all around the world. Many say that she is the most famous person to ever live in Jacksonville, let alone Mandarin. People would travel to Mandarin to catch a glimpse of her on her porch and later to see the Stowe Memorial Window installed in the Church of Our Saviour.
The Stowes left Mandarin for the last time in 1884 when the strain of age and ill health became too much for Calvin to travel the long distance. When they left Mandarin, Mrs. Stowe requested that the Church of Our Saviour erect a window on the river side of the church in honor of her husband. Finally, in 1916, a splendid stained glass window was commissioned to Louis Comfort Tiffany, a great admirer of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The window was of a secular nature, depicting her view from the porch of her home, and included the oak trees, moss, and the river that brought so much pleasure to the Stowes while they were in Mandarin. The window was dedicated to Calvin and Harriet together. Sadly, in 1964 the window was destroyed by a hickory tree that fell down directly on it during Hurricane Dora. A display of the window (pictured at right) and selected fragments are on view in the permanent exhibit in Mandarin Museum.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1811 and died in Hartford, Connecticut in 1896. She and her husband, Reverend Calvin E. Stowe, are buried at the historic Phillips Academy Cemetery in Andover, Massachusetts.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe Center on Stowe’s life
- Southern Cultures article on Stowe’s time in Mandarin, Shana Klein
- Replicating Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Experiences in Florida, John T. Foster, Jr.
- Florida’s Historical Markers: Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Florida Channel
- Harriet Beecher Stowe in Florida, Florida Frontiers TV
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
Harriet Beecher Stowe Portrait Harriet Beecher Stowe published more than 30 books, but it was her best-selling antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin that brought her worldwide fame and a very secure place in history. She also wrote biographies, children’s text books, and advice books on homemaking and childrearing. The informal style of her writing enabled her to reach audiences that more scholarly works would not.
Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut to the Rev. Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote Beecher the sixth of 11 children. She was called Hattie by her brothers and sisters. Roxanna Beecher died when Harriet was only five years old, and her oldest sister Catharine became an important maternal influence.
The Beechers took in boarders from Tapping Reeve’s law school. Lyman Beecher was a famous minister who guided the community with his powerful sermons and taught his children to be involved in the issues of the day. He also taught religion at Sarah Pierce‘s Litchfield Female Academy.
Harriet began her formal education at Pierce’s school, one of the earliest to encourage girls to study academic subjects. In 1824 Harriet moved to Hartford and became a student and later a teacher at the Hartford Female Seminary, founded by her sister Catherine Beecher. She remained there until 1831, honing her writing talents and spending hours composing essays.
Harriet’s passion for writing allowed her to express her thoughts and beliefs at a time when women could not speak publicly. It also enabled her to contribute financially to the income of the Stowe household. Her career began with a children’s textbook, Primary Geography for Children (1833) and A New England Sketch (1835), her first signed story and she received $50 for her effort.
Marriage and Family
In 1832, at age 21, Harriet Beecher moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lyman Beecher was appointed President of Lane Theological Seminary. There she was introduced to slavery debates, the Underground Railroad and fugitive slaves.
In January 1836 while still living in Ohio, Harriet married Calvin Stowe, a theology professor she described as “rich in Greek and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, and alas! rich in nothing else…” They had seven children, six of whom were born in Cincinnati.
In the summer of 1849, Harriet Beecher Stowe experienced for the first time the sorrow many 19th-century parents knew when her 18-month old son Samuel died of cholera. She later credited that crushing pain as one of the inspirations for Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “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 from her.”
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
In 1850 Professor Calvin Stowe joined the faculty of his alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where the family lived until 1853. The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, which punished anyone who offered food or temporary shelter to runaway slaves. Harriet believed her purpose in life was to write, and to expose the truth about the greatest social injustice of her day – human slavery.
Using the personal accounts of former slaves to write her blockbuster antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or Life Among the Lowly. It first appeared in installments in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era between June 5, 1851 though April 1, 1852. It is the story of a Kentucky slave named Uncle Tom who is placed on a riverboat traveling down the Mississippi River to be sold. While on board, Tom meets and befriends a young white girl named Eva, whose father buys Tom and takes him with the family to New Orleans.
The novel also tells the true story of Eliza, a runaway slave mother who overhears that her five-year-old son Harry had been sold. Eliza clasps her son in her arms as she flees from the slave state of Kentucky to the free state of Ohio by jumping from ice floe to ice floe on the Ohio River. The character Eliza was inspired by an account given to Calvin Stowe at Lane Theological Seminary.
Stowe expected the story to be written in three or four installments she wrote more than 40. The novel was then published as a two volume book in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a best seller in the United States, Britian, Europe, Asia, and was translated into over 60 languages. The book received both high praise and harsh criticism and catapulted Stowe and the issue of slavery into the international spotlight.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was certainly not the sole cause of the Civil War, but it stirred opinions held by people in the North and South that led to the War. Stowe later said:
I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity – because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought financial security, and enabled Stowe to write full time. She began publishing multiple works per year including the Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which documented the case histories on which she had based her novel, and Dred: A Tale from the Swamp, a more forceful anti-slavery novel.
In 1853 the Stowe family moved from Maine to Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin served as professor of theology at the Andover Theological Seminary from 1853 to 1864. Harriet continued to write and work to improve society, contributing numerous articles, essays and short stories that were regularly published in newspapers and journals.
At age 18, the Stowes’ eldest son Henry, whom Harriet called “the lamb of my flock,” traveled with the family to Great Britain and Europe. In 1857 Henry, a student at Dartmouth College, drowned at age 19 while swimming with friends in the Connecticut River. Stowe’s grief at his death caused a personal crisis of faith and propelled her to write her novel, The Minister’s Wooing.
After Calvin’s retirement in 1864, the Stowes moved into Oakholm, Harriet’s dream home in the literary and social reform neighborhood known as Nook Farm in Hartford, Connecticut. The community attracted friends, relatives, business associates and literary types, including Hartford Courant editors Joseph Hawley and Charles Dudley Warner.
Nook Farm began in 1853 as a collaborative purchase between John Hooker – lawyer and husband
of Harriet’s younger half-sister Isabella Beecher Hooker and his brother-in-law, Francis Gillette (a Senator and abolitionist). Following the purchase, the land was subdivided and sold in pieces.
This idealistic, liberal circle was a tight one, and there were frequent impromptu social activities and intellectual discussions. The houses were irregularly spaced on one enormous estate, and winding among the trees were paths and shortcuts that the neighbors used without going to the street. Doors were unlocked, and residents of the farm walked in and out of each other’s houses without knocking.
Winter Home in Florida
After the Civil War, Harriet’s brother Charles Beecher opened a Florida school to teach emancipated African Americans, and he urged Harriet and Calvin Stowe to join him. The Stowes purchased a house and property in Mandarin, Florida on the St. John’s River, and began to travel south each winter.
Newly expanded railroads also made shipping citrus fruits north a potentially lucrative business, and Stowe purchased an orange grove which she hoped her son Frederick would manage. The relatively mild winters of northern Florida were a welcome respite from Hartford winters and the high costs of winter fuel.
Harriet Beecher Stowe loved Florida, comparing its soft climate to Italy, and she published Palmetto Leaves, 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.
During this same time, Harriet’s younger half-sister Isabella Beecher Hooker became a prominent activist for women’s suffrage. She organized the first convention in Connecticut to discuss women in government, and formed the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. In 1871, she organized a suffragist convention in Washington, DC. For seven years until its passage, she submitted to the Connecticut legislature a bill to guarantee women the same property rights as their husbands.
The Beecher-Tilton Scandal
In 1870 Elizabeth Tilton told her husband, newspaper editor and abolitionist Theodore Tilton, that she had been involved in an affair with Harriet’s brother Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous clergymen in America. The Reverend Beecher’s history was riddled with rumors of extramarital affairs that had begun circulating years earlier.
The charges became public when Tilton told women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton of his wife’s confession. Stanton repeated the story to fellow women’s rights leaders Harriet’s sister Isabella Beecher Hooker and Victoria Woodhull, whom Beecher had publicly denounced for her advocacy of free love from the pulpit.
Woodhull was outraged at his hypocrisy, and published a story in her paper Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, stating that America’s most renowned clergyman was secretly practicing the free-love doctrines that he denounced. In a highly publicized scandal, Beecher was tried for the crime of adultery in 1875. He was eventually acquitted but his reputation suffered.
Tilton v. Beecher was one of the most famous scandals of the late 19th century. The trial began in January 1875, and ended in July when the jurors deliberated for six days but were unable to reach a verdict. Beecher then called for the Congregational church to hold a final hearing to exonerate him, which it did. The story created a national sensation for two years, and split the Beecher siblings Harriet and others supported Henry, while Isabella publicly supported Woodhull.
In 1870 the Stowes had been forced to sell Oakholm, their beloved home at Nook Farm in Hartford, because of the high maintenance costs. In 1873, they settled into a smaller Victorian Gothic cottage nearby on Hartford’s Forest Street, across the road from Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and his wife Olivia Clemens. Harriet lived out her years there.
Stowe published several books in the 1870s, including Woman in Sacred History A Series of Sketches Drawn from Scriptural, Historical and Legendary Sources (1874), We and Our Neighbors or, the Records of an Unfashionable Street (1875) and Poganuc People Their Loves and Lives (1878), an autobiographical novel about her childhood in Litchfield, Connecticut.
Her childrens’ struggles with substance abuse made Stowe far more sympathetic to addiction than most people of her time. In 1870 her son Frederick, an alcoholic Civil War veteran, left for California and was never heard from again. In 1890, her daughter Georgiana May died at age 40 due to complications from morphine addiction. Stowe was one of the first to write about addiction as a physical disease rather than a moral failing.
Stowe lived to a ripe old age, which meant that most of her loved ones passed away before her. In 1878, her elder sister Catharine died. In 1886, she lost her husband. A year later, Henry Ward Beecher died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Harriet Beecher Stowe died in her sleep at her home in Hartford on July 1, 1896 at age 85.
My favorite Harriet Beecher Stowe quote:
Once in an age God sends to some of us a friend who loves in us, not a false-imagining, an unreal character, but looking through the rubbish of our imperfections, loves in us the divine ideal of our nature – loves, not the [wo]man that we are, but the angel that we may be.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) was a depiction of life for African American slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, which energized anti-slavery forces in the North, while provoking widespread anger in the South. She wrote more than 20 books, and was influential both for her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day.
Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 14, 1811. She was the second daughter the sixth of eleven children born to outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote Beecher, who died when Stowe was only four years old. Harriet’s oldest sister, Catherine Beecher, then took over care of the children.
The Beechers expected their children to shape their world: all seven sons became ministers, including Henry Ward Beecher oldest daughter Catherine pioneered education for women youngest daughter Isabella Beecher Hooker was a founder of the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Harriet believed her purpose in life was to write at seven, she won a school essay contest earning praise from her father.
Lyman Beecher’s second wife, Harriet Porter, 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.
Harriet Beecher began her formal education at Sarah Pierce‘s Litchfield Female Academy, one of the earliest to encourage girls to study academic subjects and not simply homemaking skills. In 1824, Harriet moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and became first a student and later an assistant teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, founded and run by her sister Catherine. It was a unique school, focusing on the importance of women’s education. There, Harriet developed her writing talents, spending hours composing essays.
In 1832, Harriet and Catherine moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, with their father, who had been appointed President of the Lane Theological Seminary. They lived in a house provided by the Seminary, and soon after settling in, Harriet and her sister established the Western Female Institute.
Harriet associated in literary circles with the likes of Salmon P. Chase (later governor, senator, member of Lincoln’s cabinet and Supreme Court chief justice) and Calvin Ellis Stowe, a Lane professor of biblical theology, whose wife Eliza became a close friend to Harriet. Eliza died in August 1834.
In 1833, while teaching at the Western Female Institute, the Beecher sisters published Geography for Children, Harriet’s first book. The following year Harriet won a prize for “New England Sketch,” published in the Western Monthly Magazine. Soon she was writing articles and stories for that publication and others, including The Atlantic Monthly, New York Evangelist, The Independent and The Christian Union.
During the 1830s, Harriet became an abolitionist. Cincinnati was across the Ohio River fom the state of Kentucky where slavery was legal. Thousands of runaway slaves passed through Cincinnati as they traveled to freedom, and Harriet met escaped slaves and heard stories of their appalling treatment.
There were race riots in Cincinnati in 1836, caused by racial tensions at a time when ex-slaves were competing with whites for jobs. The rioters attacked blacks and the whites who supported them. Buildings were burned and several blacks lost their lives.
Harriet described the Cincinnati Riots:
The mayor was a silent spectator of these proceedings, and was heard to say, ‘Well, lads, you have done well, so far go home now before you disgrace yourselves’ but the ‘lads’ spent the rest of the night and a greater part of the next day (Sunday) in pulling down the houses of inoffensive and respectable blacks.
The Gazette office was threatened, the Journal office was to go next Lane Seminary and the water-works also were mentioned as probable points to be attacked by the mob. By Tuesday morning the city was pretty well alarmed. A regular corps of volunteers was organized, who for three nights patrolled the streets with firearms and with legal warrant from the mayor, who by this time was glad to give it, to put down the mob even by bloodshed.
During the 18 years she lived in Cincinnati, Harriet became friends with several Ohio abolitionists, including James G. Birney, Gamaliel Bailey, Theodore Dwight Weld and John Rankin, whose home in Ripley, Ohio, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Marriage and Family
After her friend Eliza Stowe’s died in 1834, Harriet’s friendship with widower Calvin Stowe had deepened. In January 1836 she married Calvin Stowe, who was nine years older than she. They had seven children together, four of whom died in Harriet’s lifetime. Six of the children were born in Cincinnati.
Harriet began writing professionally, selling short stories and articles to popular magazines, using her earnings to pay for household help. In the summer of 1849, Samuel Charles Stowe, her 18-month old son died of cholera. Stowe later credited that crushing pain as an inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin because it helped her understand the pain enslaved mothers felt when their children were taken from them to be sold.
Calvin Stowe was active in the public education system and often traveled for work. During one of his absences, 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 was always supportive of Harriet’s literary career she published The Mayflower, a collection of tales and sketches, in 1843.
In 1850 Calvin Stowe joined the faculty of his alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and the family moved there, living in Brunswick until 1853. They then relocated to Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin was a professor of theology at Andover Theological Seminary from 1853 to 1863.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
In 1850 the U.S. government passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which punished those who aided runaway slaves, stripped the rights of the fugitives, and diminished the rights of free Blacks. Harriet objected to the federal government actively assisting slave owners in their efforts to reclaim their runaway slaves in the Northern states.
During a communion service at the college, Harriet had a vision of a dying slave, and she began writing a story about slavery, using the form of a novel to communicate the pain and suffering caused by slavery. She realized that most Northerners had no idea how devastating slavery could be, and wanted to educate the public about the brutalities of the institution.
Harriet researched the topic well, using her own experiences, enlisting friends and family to send her information and scouring freedom narratives and anti-slavery newspapers for first hand accounts as she composed her story. She asked prominent former slave Frederick Douglass to put her in touch with ex-slaves in order to ensure the accuracy of her story.
In 1851, The National Era‘s publisher Gamaliel Bailey contracted with Harriet Beecher Stowe for a story that would “paint a word picture of slavery” that would run in installments in the antislavery newspaper. She expected the story to be three or four installments she wrote more than forty.
On June 5, 1851, The National Era began publishing installments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was so popular that readers wrote to the newspaper begging for more, and the circulation of the paper doubled. New segments appeared in most weekly issues of the newspaper through April 1 of the following year.
The action of the story traces the passage of the slave Uncle Tom through the hands of three owners, each meant to represent a type of Southern figure. The first is a kind planter, the second a highbred gentleman, and the last the infamous Simon Legree, who causes the death of Uncle Tom. The fortunes of the slaves in the book curve downward, and the finally successful dash for freedom by George and Eliza constitutes the high drama of the story.
In 1852 the serial was published as a book entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly. Its emotional portrayal of the impact of slavery captured the nation’s attention, and added to the debate about abolition and slavery. It was a bestseller in the United States, England, Europe, Asia, and was translated into more than 60 languages. Some sources estimate as many as 325,000 copies were sold in the first year.
The novel was dismissed by some as abolitionist propaganda yet Leo Tolstoy deemed it a great work of literature “flowing from love of God and man.” Though Uncle Tom’s Cabin received great attention, its reception was often hostile. Not only in the South, but also in the North, there were charges that the world of the slave had been melodramatically misrepresented.
The novel was universally denounced in the South as a distortion, so Stowe published another book, A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, documenting the actual cases on which her book was based, to refute critics who tried to argue that it was inauthentic.
Stowe was catapulted to international fame with the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A petition signed by half a million English, Scottish and Irish women, addressed to the women of the United States, led to a trip to Europe in 1853 for Harriet, Calvin and Harriet’s brother Charles Beecher. She turned her experiences on this trip into a book, Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands.
Frederick Douglass letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe:
March 8, 1853
You kindly informed me, when at your house, a fortnight ago, that you designed to do something which should permanently contribute to the improvement and elevation of the free colored people in the United States. You especially expressed an interest in such of this class as had become free by their own exertions, and desired most of all to be of service to them.
…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…
In 1856 Stowe published Dred: A Tale from the Swamp, a more forceful antislavery novel. Its reception was hardly less enthusiastic than that of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In England alone, during the first month, over 100,000 copies were sold.
Stowe returned to England in 1856, meeting Queen Victoria and befriending Lady Byron, the widow of the poet Lord Byron. Among others she met were Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.
Her 1859 novel, The Minister’s Wooing, was set in the New England of her youth, and drew on her sadness in losing a second son – Henry Ellis Stowe drowned in an accident while a student at Dartmouth College. Harriet’s later writing focused mainly on New England settings.
By the late 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe was firmly established as a major American writer. She now had not only financial security, but was able to write full time. Her broad range of interests resulted in such varied publications as children’s text books, advice books on homemaking and childrearing, biographies and religious studies. The informal, conversational style of her novels permitted her to reach audiences that more scholarly works would not, and encouraged everyday people to think about such controversial topics as slavery, religious reform, and gender roles.
During the Civil War, Stowe met with President Abraham Lincoln, encouraging him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. According to family accounts, Lincoln greeted her as the “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” True or not, Uncle Tom’s Cabin certainly had a tremendous influence on America’s view of slavery, and it ensured that Harriet Beecher Stowe and her novel would become a permanent part of American history.
While the Civil War was still waging, Calvin Stowe retired from teaching in 1863, and the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut. There Harriet Beecher Stowe built her dream house, Oakholm, in Nook Farm, a neighborhood full of friends and relatives. Mark Twain and his family were neighbors and they soon became friends.
In the aftermath of the war, Stowe turned resolutely to New England society and history for her subject matter, publishing novels, collections of stories, poems, as well as The American Woman’s Home, a guide to middle-class domestic life co-written with her sister Catharine.
In 1869 Stowe again toured Europe, renewing an earlier friendship with Lady Byron, poet Lord Byron’s widow. Later that year, Stowe’s article The True Story of Lady Byron’s Life created a scandal. Upset at a publication that she thought insulted her friend, Stowe repeated in this article a charge that Lord Byron had been involved in an incestuous love affair with his half-sister, and that a child had been born of their relationship.
Byron was a legend by this time, and the article alienated much of Stowe’s loyal British audience. Undisturbed, however, she continued her series of novels, poems, and sketches, as well as her autobiography, never wanting for a devoted and enthusiastic American audience. In an effort to mend the rift, she published Lady Byron Vindicated in 1870.
Undisturbed, Stowe continued writing, never wanting for a devoted and enthusiastic American audience. For almost thirty years she produced a book a year and through her writing supplemented her husband’s modest earnings. Her admirers included Jenny Lind, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, George Eliot and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Stowe also undertook two speaking tours, one along the east coast, the second taking her to the western states. However, she did not have a high opinion of herself saying she was “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.”
The high maintenance cost and the encroachment of factories forced her to sell her mansion in 1870. Though twin daughters Eliza and Harriet were still unmarried and helping at home, the Stowes moved to smaller quarters. In 1873, she settled into a brick Victorian Gothic cottage-style house, where she remained there for 23 years.
Her son Frederick was an alcoholic from the age of sixteen, and never recovered from the wounds he sustained at Gettysburg in the Civil War. He simply disappeared in San Francisco despite Harriet’s grandiose schemes to rescue him. He was lost at sea in 1871, and Harriet mourned another lost son.
Another scandal touched the family in the 1870s when minister Henry Ward Beecher, the brother with whom Harriet had been closest, was charged with adultery with one of his parishioners, Elizabeth Tilton, who had confessed to her husband, publisher Theodore Tilton. The charges became public when Theodore Tilton told women’s rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton of his wife’s confession.
Image: 1872 engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Based on an oil painting by Alonzo Chappel
In a well-publicized adultery trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Harriet’s sister Isabella Beecher Hooker believed the charges of adultery and was ostracized by the family. Beecher’s church held a board of inquiry and exonerated Beecher, but excommunicated Mr. Tilton in 1873.
Harriet defended her brother’s innocence. In the aftermath of the trial, Harriet mostly retreated from public life and lived at her homes in the Nook Farm area of Hartford and in Florida.
After the end of the Civil War, Stowe’s brother Charles Beecher had opened a school in Florida to teach emancipated blacks, and he urged Calvin and Harriet to join him. The Stowes purchased a house and property in Mandarin, Florida, now a suburb of Jacksonville on the St. John’s River.
Harriet Beecher Stowe loved Florida, comparing its soft climate to Italy, and in 1873 she published Palmetto Leaves, describing the beauties and advantages of the state. She established a cotton plantation there and employed newly-freed slaves. Her efforts on behalf of the state and her book endeared her to Floridians.
The relatively mild winters of northern Florida were a welcome respite from Hartford winters and the high costs of winter fuel. Stowe and her family wintered in Mandarin for over 15 years in the 1870s and 1880s, until Calvin’s health prohibited long travel.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was honored by her publisher Houghton, Mifflin and Company with a large birthday party on June 14, 1882. It was attended by over 200 guests, including many major living writers of the 19th century, including Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Greenleaf Whittier. Toasts, speeches, letters, and poems were read in honor of Stowe, her life and works.
Stowe did not appear in public much in her later years. She helped her son Charles write her biography, The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, which he published in 1889. She was bedridden for some years.
Calvin Stowe died in 1886.
Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896, at home in Hartford, Connecticut, at the age of eighty-five, surrounded by her surviving family members. She is buried in the Academy Cemetery at Andover, Massachusetts.
In all, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writing career spanned 51 years, during which time she published more than 20 books and countless short stories, poems, articles, and hymns. Her passion for writing allowed her to publicly express her thoughts and beliefs at a time when a woman could not speak publicly, and to contribute financially to the Stowe household.
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 the 5000 square foot cottage-style house, there are many of Stowe’s original items.
On June 13, 2007, the United States Postal Service issued a 75¢ Distinguished Americans postage stamp in her honor.
Birth of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Lyman Beecher was a famous Presbyterian preacher in New England in the early 19th century. The son and grandson of blacksmiths, he delighted to wield the hammer of denunciation on the anvil of error and he was a fierce opponent of both Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism. He had three wives and 13 children, several of whom became substantial figures in their own right. The most notable was his daughter Harriet Elizabeth, born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in the Presbyterian parsonage which the family shared with numerous boarders and which Harriet described as ‘a wide, roomy, windy edifice that seemed to have been built by a succession of afterthoughts’.
Harriet was the pastor’s seventh child by his first wife Roxana Foote, who bore him nine children before dying of consumption at the age of 41, when Harriet was five. Harriet had few memories of her. Lyman Beecher soon married again, but her stepmother made Harriet feel uncouth and the main influences on her were her father and her sister Catharine, who was ten years older. Even in a family of exceptionally bright and lively children she stood out. When she was seven her father described her in a letter to his brother-in-law as ‘a great genius’ and ‘as odd as she is intelligent and studious’. He said he would give $100 for her to be a boy and her brother Henry a girl.
That would have pleased Harriet. She envied her brothers, who were brought up far less strictly than was thought proper for her as a girl. At eight she was sent to a progressive school for girls in Litchfield, which had been founded ‘to vindicate the equality of female intellect’. An essay she wrote there was read aloud at a gathering of parents, including her father. He was profoundly impressed and she afterwards called it the proudest moment of her life.
All Lyman Beecher’s children were brought up to embrace his Calvinistic view of the world and human nature. They were persistently interrogated about the condition of their souls and were expected to have a conversion experience, as they all duly did. Harriet’s came as she turned 14 and she proudly reported to her father that Christ had taken her for his own. She was now at the small private school for girls that her sister Catharine had founded in Hartford, Connecticut. Harriet became a teacher there herself and her gift for writing convinced her that her mission in life was ‘to preach on paper’ while her brothers, who all became ministers, held forth from their pulpits.
In 1832 the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lyman Beecher had been appointed president of the new Lane Theological Seminary, set up to train ministers to make sure that Protestantism prevailed in the territories opening up in the American West. In Cincinnati Harriet was confronted with the issue of slavery, as fugitive slaves from the South were sheltered and aided there. It was there too that she met Calvin Ellis Stowe, a teacher at the Lane Seminary, whom she married in 1836 when she was 24. In a letter to a friend just before the wedding she said she would soon cease to be Hattie Beecher and change to ‘nobody knows who’.
What was really in store was the opposite. Calvin encouraged her to write stories and essays that were published in various magazines and collected in a book, The Mayflower, in 1843. Their marriage produced seven children and lasted for 50 years, but was not without strain. They were temperamentally very different: where she was reserved and cautious, he was hasty and impulsive. Her domestic management has been described as ‘haphazard’ and he was a hypochondriac, but they managed.
The tragic death in 1849 of their sixth baby brought home fully to Harriet Stowe the horror of so many black mothers arbitrarily separated from their children and inspired her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly, which came out in weekly parts from 1851 in The National Era, an anti-slavery periodical. It created a sensation. Published as a book in 1852, it sold 300,000 copies in its first year and reinforced abolitionist feeling in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War. She followed it with a second anti-slavery novel in 1856, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The Stowes had moved back to New England by then and she would publish many more novels, children’s stories and biographies, but it was Uncle Tom’s Cabin that brought her lasting fame. Calvin Stowe, who was proud of her but also resented being known only as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s husband, died in 1886. Harriet survived until 1896, when she died in Hartford, Connecticut at the age of 85.