Harriet Beecher Stowe
June 14, 1811- July 1, 1896
Wrote the international bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabinby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
It was Roxanne Beecher’s constant prayer that God would call each of her children into His service. Her seventh-born, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was an amazing answer to prayer.
Harriet was born to Reverend Lyman Beecher and Roxanne Foote Beecher on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. As a Congregational minister, Reverend Beecher raised his 11 children with a strong belief in God and the importance of standing up for their beliefs. Three of Harriet’s siblings are also quite well known for their own accomplishments. Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) became a minister in Brooklyn, New York and was active in the abolitionist movement. Catharine Beecher (1800-1878) founded many schools for modern young women, and, like Harriet, was a prolific author. Isabella Beecher (1822-1907) made a big impact on the woman’s suffrage movement. When Harriet was 12, she was sent to be educated at Hartford Female Seminary, founded by her sister, Catherine. There, the girls were encouraged to participate in student government and pen numerous compositions. Under her sister’s encouragement and instruction, Harriet developed her great love for writing. At age 15, Harriet accepted Christ into her life during one of her father’s sermons.
After graduating, Harriet taught at Hartford until the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Lyman Beecher accepted the position as President of Lane Theological Seminary. Harriet taught at the Female Western Institute, also established by Catherine. In 1836, she married a widower by the name of Calvin Stowe who was, like her father, on staff at Lane. Together, they had seven children. To supplement the family income, Harriet began to write short stories and became a member of the Semi-Colon Club, a literary society in which members wrote articles which were read and critiqued by other members. Calvin always encouraged his wife in her ambitions and over the course of her career; she published almost 30 books and countless shorter pieces. Her works range from poems to travel books, biographical sketches, and children's books; her subjects included homemaking, the raising of children, and religion.
Although, as we have just seen, not her only accomplishment, Harriet’s “claim to fame” is most certainly her first novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. This book tells the story of two African American slaves, and their escape from slavery, and was first written in serial form for an abolitionist newspaper, The National. Harriet’s belief that all mankind was created equal in God’s sight was the leading inspiration but there were other inspirations as well. Uncle Tom's Cabin is said to have been inspired by the Stowe’s servant Zillah, who they discovered to be a runaway slave and assisted to the next underground station. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a crime for citizens of free states to aid runaway slaves, angered Harriet and this novel is considered one of her attempts to open the eyes of her fellow Americans to the terror of life as a slave. She succeeded in her efforts and many minds were opened, thanks to her excellent portrayal of the sufferings of Uncle Tom and Eliza. The death of her eighteen-month-old son, Charley, gave her emotion to draw from to pen the pain of separation Eliza and Uncle Tom feel. "... I HAVE BEEN the mother of seven children, the most beautiful and most loved of whom lies buried near my Cincinnati residence. 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. In those depths of sorrow which seemed to me immeasurable, it was my only prayer to God that such anguish might not be suffered in vain. There were circumstances about his death of such peculiar bitterness, of what seemed almost cruel suffering that I felt I could never be consoled for it unless this crushing of my own heart might enable me to work out some great good to others. I allude to this here because I have often felt that much that is in that book had its root in the awful scenes and bitter sorrow of that summer. It has left now, I trust, no trace on my mind except a deep compassion for the sorrowful, especially for mothers who are separated from their children." ( Harriet Beecher Stowe to Eliza Cabot Follen, December 16, 1852) By forcing the reader to place themselves in the character’s situation, they realize the humanity of the African slaves.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was an enormous success. In the first week alone, over 10,000 copies were sold. Putnam's Magazine called Uncle Tom's Cabin, "the first real success in bookmaking." That year, it became a best seller in the United States, England, Europe, Asia, and is now translated into over 60 languages. Although abolitionists embraced the book because of its compassionate view of slavery, those who claimed slavery was sanctioned in the Bible disliked it and accused Harriet of embellishing. To prove the accuracy of her novel, she followed it up with A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin in1853.
After 51 years of writing, Harriet retired. The Stowes moved to Andover, Massachusetts where Harriet and Calvin built their dream house. Unfortunately, not long after they moved in, they were forced to sell due to financial reasons. In 1873, they moved to the brick, Victorian cottage-style house on Forest Street, which is now open for public tours. Here, Harriet lived quietly until she died on July 1, 1896, at the age of 85.
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin influenced numerous prominent citizens including Caroline Norton and writers Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman. Even Abraham Lincoln is rumored to have said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" Many Americans, like Frederick Douglass, were inspired to fight for the rights of those like Uncle Tom and Eliza. We see that her love for the Lord and compassion for all of his people was spread, through her book, to the world. No less than 70 biblical quotations or allusions are written in her most famous novel. Beyond a doubt, Roxanne Beecher’s prayer was answered in Harriet showing the impact that a Bible believing family had on turning the world upside down with the truth of the gospel.
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