Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famed 19th-century author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Renowned for being the author of the famous 19th-century novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American author and educator who fought tirelessly with leading abolitionist to end slavery in America.
Mrs. Stowe’s book came to be extremely popular among abolitionists across the country. However, the book was met with unbridled scorn in the South. Historians have stated that Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin contributed immensely in rallying many Northerners against the institution of slavery, which in turn was one of the reasons for the breakout of the American Civil War.
What are the other things that make Harriet Beecher Stowe famous? How was she educated? How was her childhood like? And what are her most notable accomplishments?
Learn about the life, works and major achievements of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Fast Facts about Harriet Beecher
Born: Harriet Elizabeth Beecher
Birthday: June 14, 1811
Place of birth: Litchfield, Connecticut, United States
Died: July 1, 1886
Place of death: Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Parents: Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote Beecher
Siblings: 12 siblings, including Henry Ward Beecher, Catherine Beecher, Isabella Beecher Hooker
Education: Hartford Female Seminary
Husband: Calvin E. Stowe
Most notable works: Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or, Life Among the Lowly, A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Minister’s Wooing
Pseudonyms: Christopher Crowfield
Major awards: Hall of Fame for Great Americans (1910)
Role in: Fighting against the perpetuation of slavery
Birth and early life
Born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut, U.S., Harriet Elizabeth Beecher hailed from a very distinguished family. Her father was a Presbyterian minister. When she was five years old, she lost her mother, Roxana Foote Beecher.
Her father, Reverend Minister Lyman Beecher, instilled in Harriet and her siblings the habit of reading and learning.
She had 12 siblings (including half-siblings) who like her excelled in literary works. Some of those siblings of Harriet Stowe like Catherine Beecher, Edward Beecher, Charles, and Henry Ward Beecher. The latter went on to be a renowned civil rights and anti-slavery activist.
From 1824 to 1827, she was a student at older sister Catherine’s school (the Hartford Female Seminary) in Hartford, Connecticut. Her sister Catherine Beecher had a massive influence on her. The education she received was quite different from the kind that girls received in her era. At her sister’s school, Harriet was taught mathematics, science, the Classics, and a host of languages. After graduating from the school, Harriet became a tutor.
In 1832, Harriet, her sister and her father relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her father was appointed the head of Lane Theological Seminary.
Her writing prowess began to blossom around her early 20s, when she started writing a few stories and short tales. It’s been said that she was talented writer, almost similar to many of her family members.
Harriet sent her stories and tales to be published in many local journals in Cincinnati. Encouraged by her husband Calvin Ellis Stowe, a clergyman and seminary professor, she would continue writing, publishing The Mayflower in 1843.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writings about slavery in the South
Living quite close to a slave-holding community in Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe took to the habit of observing and writing down the stories she heard from runaway slaves that she came into contact with. The narrations of those slaves’ plight and torture at the hands of their slave owners helped Harriet truly understand the culture in the south. She also took a number of visits to the South in order to gain a proper understanding of the life in those parts of the United States.
After spending close to two decades in Cincinnati, Harriet relocated with her husband and children to Brunswick, Maine in 1850. Her husband had been appointed professor at a local college in Maine.
Still moved by the plight of enslaved African Americans, Harriet Beecher continued to write about slavery in the U.S. She drew a lot of inspiration from the works of abolitionists.
How the Lane Debates on Slavery inspired Harriett Beecher Stowe
Organized by the Lane Theological Seminary in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio, the Lane Debates on Slavery were the talk of town throughout 1834. With approval from Lymann Beecher, Lane’s president and father of Harriett Beecher, the debate over slavery saw the likes of James Bradley, a former slave who purchased his freedom, and student body head Theodore Dwight Weld give inspiring speeches against slavery in America.
As a result of those debates, more and more people became radicalized towards slavery. The debates had so much impact that pro-slavery Southerners and anti-abolitionist whites pushed back and piled up pressure on the board of Lane Theological Seminary to end the debates. Concerned of the violence that could be unleashed from those radical slavery supporters, Stowe’s father and the seminary’s board placed a ban on the discussion of the topic. The ban caused members of the anti-slavery student body to move their activities to Oberlin, Ohio.
Read More: 9 Myths Debunked about Slavery in America
Effect of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) on Stowe
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made it an offence to give assistance to any runaway slave in the United States. It also empowered bounty hunters to use whatever means to catch fugitives and return them to their slave owners.
No doubt that the act influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe’s decision to expose the atrocities committed by slave owners in the South. Stowe’s exposition was brilliantly packaged as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which in turn fueled strong opposition towards slavery in America.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851/52)
In 1851, she wrote a brilliant antislavery paper which got published in the National Era in Washington, D.C. Stowe also struck a good working relationship with Gamaliel Bailey, the editor of the weekly anti-slavery journal.
A year later, in 1852, she compiled those tales into a book titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book, which sold more than quarter of a million copies in the first year alone, brought Harriet Beecher into the limelight. Very much beloved by abolitionists, Uncle Tom’s Cabin whipped up a lot of antislavery sentiments, particularly in the North were it was dramatized a number of times in front of enthusiastic viewers. In the South, however, the book was rejected out rightly due to its antislavery tone.
Many historians regard Uncle Tom’s Cabin as one of the most famous and highly controversial works of the 19th century.
Did you know?
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold a whopping 10,000 copies in its first week of release. And in about a year after its publication, the book had amassed more than 300,000 copies in sales in the U.S. alone. Across the Atlantic, the book sold more than one million copies in the UK.
- In spite of all the fame she had following the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe very rarely gave a speech during her book tours. Our nation by then was not only grappling with the slavery, but it was also finding it difficult to accept women as equal citizens. As a result, Harriet left the public speaking to her husband or her brothers.
Works, people and events that influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin
No doubt that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe’s decision to bring to the expose the atrocities committed by slave owners in the South. Other factors that influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe to become a prominent abolitionist are:
- She and her sisters were members of the Semi-Colon Club, a group of renowned writers, both men and women. The club was extremely beneficial to the young Stowe. She was afforded the opportunity to learn from well-established writers such as Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873), a jurist who was the 6th Chief Justice of the United States (from 1864 to 1873), and Emily Blackwell (1826-1910), the third woman to have a medical degree in the U.S.
- The death of her less than two-year-old son Samuel Charles Stowe (in 1851) allowed her to understand the pain enslaved women suffered whenever their children were ripped away from their hands.
- Stowe also said that she had a vision where she saw a slave die right in front of her.
A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853)
Following the release of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851, there some critics who doubted the veracity of some of the stories in the book. Harriet Beecher responded to those critics, particularly critics from the South, by authoring A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853. In the book, the author provides detailed testimonies from escaped slaves about how brutal a life they lived in the South.
Stowe’s books catapulted her to international stardom, especially among abolitionists. In 1853, she made a trip across the Atlantic to England, where she had been invited by human rights activists and members of the literary community.
Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856)
Five years after her critically acclaimed book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, Harriet Beecher Stowe authored Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. In the book, she goes after the American society whose constitution preaches equality and liberty but somehow could not bring an end to the barbaric practice of owning another human being. The book, like her previous books, was met with positive reviews from abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Other notable achievements of Harriet Beecher Stowe
- The Episcopal Church (USA) honors her with a feast day on July I.
- In 1986, she was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame
- She’s been inducted into the Hall of Fame of Great Americans.
- In addition to her massive contributions to American literature and history, she provided support to the Underground Railroad. One time, she provided shelter to John Andrew Jackson, a runaway slave from South Carolina.
Death of Harriet Beecher Stowe
On July 2, 1896, Harriet Beecher Stowe died at home in Connecticut. Her family stated that she had suffered from mental issues in her final few years. The Litchfield, Connecticut-born author and abolitionist died at the age of 85. She was buried at a cemetery in Andover, Massachusetts. Her husband Calvin E. Stowe and son Henry Ellis are also buried in the same cemetery.
More Harriet Beecher Stowe’s facts
- After her husband Calvin retired, she and her family settled in Hartford, Connecticut. They lived in the same neighborhood as Mark Twain.
- The plantation that she started up in Mandarin, Florida, employed a lot of former slaves.
- In 1871, tragedy struck as she lost one of her sons, Frederick, to drowning. A year later, in 1872, her preacher brother Henry Beecher was accused of adultery with one of his church members.
Other works and publications
The Atlantic Monthly (now The Atlantic), a Washington, D.C.-based journal of news and literature, were more than enthused to publish many of the articles written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Other journals and newspapers like the Christian Union and New York City’s the Independent were also interested in Stowe’s compilation of stories of slavery in the America.
Another very controversial work by Stowe came in the article that she published in The Atlantic in 1869. In the article, she accused Lord Byron, a famous English poet of high born, of having incestuous relationship with his half-sister. The article was met with a lot of scorn from large sections of the British public.