Stowe, Harriet Beecher

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Stowe, Harriet Beecher

Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of one of America's most famous and popular books, helped to strengthen the Abolition movement by bringing white Americans and people around the world to the realization of the cruelties and misery endured by black slaves in the 1850s. Her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was one of the biggest sellers of the nineteenth century, second only to sales of the Bible. Since its publication, the book has never been out of print.

Stowe was born June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the seventh child of prominent Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher and his wife Roxana Foote Beecher, who died when Harriet was five. The Stowes grew up in an environment steeped in a Protestant tradition that demanded living a pious and moral life. Stowe's younger brother, Henry Ward Beecher, eventually became one of the country's most famous preachers and a major leader of the abolition movement. Her sister, Catharine, established several schools for young women throughout the United States.

Stowe attended Catharine's Hartford Female Seminary, one of the only schools open to young women at the time. She received an excellent education, and blossomed as a writer under her sister's tutelage. In 1832, she accompanied her sister and father to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Catharine opened another school and their father became president of Lane Theological Seminary. The following year, in 1833, Stowe coauthored and published her first book—a children's geography—under her sister's name.

"Women are the real architects of society."
—Harriet Beecher Stowe

In 1834, Harriet Beecher married widower Calvin Stowe, a poorly paid professor of biblical literature at Lane. During the first seven years of her marriage, Stowe bore five of the seven children they would ultimately have. In order to support their rapidly expanding family, she began writing magazine articles, essays, and other works. In 1843, Stowe published a collection of short stories called The Mayflower. During the 18 years she lived in Cincinnati, Stowe became an observer of the conflicting worlds of abolitionism and Slavery. Across the Ohio River was the slave state of Kentucky. Stowe's family helped to hide runaway slaves. Her husband and brother aided one runaway by transporting her to the next station on the Underground Railroad, the name given to the system of guides and safe houses that enabled escaped Southern slaves to reach freedom and safety in Northern states and Canada. Stowe was engrossed by firsthand accounts and newspaper and magazine articles detailing the horrors of the slave trade and the terrifying incidents that took place as slaves tried to escape.

In 1850, Calvin Stowe got a teaching position at Bowdoin College and the Stowe family moved to Brunswick, Maine. It was there that Stowe penned most of her soon-to-be classic. In 1851–1852, The National Era, an antislavery paper based in Washington, D.C., published in serial form, Stowe's moving account of several members of a slave family and their desperate attempt to flee from a system that rendered them the property of white owners. Stowe's narrative struck an immediate chord. Despite the newspaper's small circulation, word of mouth and the passing of issues among neighbors immediately gave Stowe's tale a larger audience.

In March 1852, her story was published as Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly. The book became an immediate best-seller with sales reaching 500,000 copies by 1857. With its dramatic narrative and heart-rending scenes of the slave Eliza fleeing across a frozen river with her small son in her arms to prevent him from being sold away from her, Stowe's book helped sway much of the public to support, or at least sympathize with, the abolitionist cause. While many Southerners criticized the book, Stowe's harrowing tale gained an increasingly wider audience. Stowe used her newfound renown to speak and write against slavery. In particular, she urged women to become active and to use their powers of persuasion to influence others on the subject.

Although none of her later writings had the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe continued to write numerous stories, essays, and articles. Between 1862 and 1884 she published almost one book per year. Stowe died on July 1, 1896, in Hartford, Connecticut.

Further readings

Crane, Gregg D. 2002. Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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

Johnston, Norma. 1994. Harriet: The Life and World of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Abolition; Slavery.

References in periodicals archive ?
Three months later, in April, as the magnolias burst into bloom in Connecticut, Betsey and I met Jan in Hartford to celebrate our reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin by touring the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and, later that afternoon, Mark Twain's mansion in the same Nook Farm neighborhood.
For another thoughtful perspective on Stowe's attitudes toward race and slavery, see Thomas Graham, "Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Question of Race" in Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In Domestic Abolitionism and Juvenile Literature, meanwhile, she reads the work of relatively established writers, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, in context with works by relatively unknown writers printed in religious and domestic publications, which both exposes many practitioners of an overlooked genre and establishes a historical background for her project.
During this time, Webb and her husband worked with William Cooper Nell, Amy and Isaac Post, Oliver Johnson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and, most importantly, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
It has been over a decade and half since the publication of the last significant edited anthology on this important American writer, Elizabeth Ammons's Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston: Hall 1980), though scholarly studies of Stowe have increased in number and complexity.
In Uncle Tom's Cabin, he shows Harriet Beecher Stowe attempting to seize, as a model of literary production, the inescapably bodily character of maternal labour.
Harriet Beecher Stowe stole a conceit from Alexis de Tocqueville (namely the contrasts on opposite banks of the Ohio River) and turned it into the quo warranto of the nation, to be redeemed in its great War of American Union.
Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Bharati Mukherjee, Grace Paley, Dorothy Parker, Katherine Anne Porter, Anne Sexton, Jane Smiley, Susan Sontag, Jezin Stafford, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
On January 1, 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe attended a concelt at the Boston Music Hall to celebrate Abraham Lincoln's expected signing that day of the Emancipation Proclamation.
What novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe became famous for its anti-slavery message?
Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, and almost immediately upon its publication in 1852, it made its way to stage, vaudeville, music and minstrel shows.
March 22, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is recognizing the 200th birthday of its namesake by honoring Half the Sky authors Nicholas D.