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Harriet Beecher Stowe

Born: June 14, 1811
Place: Litchfield, Connecticut
Died: July 1, 1896
Place: Hartford, Connecticut

Harriet Beecher Stowe Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her father, Reverend Lyman Beecher, was a Congregationalist preacher, and he was well known as a persuasive speaker who championed high moral standards. He did not hide his anti-slavery views from his congregation or his children. Harriet was one of Lyman Beecher's thirteen children. All of them, including Harriet, were brought up with strong moral principles, and all were expected to follow their religious upbringing throughout their lives, which they did. Her mother died when Harriet was four years old, and she developed a close bond with her older sister Catherine. Harriet attended school in Litchfield during these years, then studied under her sister Catherine, and then joined her sister as a teacher herself.

In 1832 both of the sisters moved to Cincinnati when their father was invited to be the president of Lane Theological Seminary there. The move was an eye-opener for Harriet. She witnessed the cruelty of slave auctions. She saw husbands, wives, and children sold to separate bidders. She saw fugitive slaves fleeing across the Ohio River from Kentucky, hoping to find refuge to the north in Canada. She drew upon several of these first-hand experiences when she later wrote the work that would make her famous, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

During this time in Ohio, Harriet also met Calvin Stowe, a clergyman, educator, and staunch abolitionist. She married him in 1836, and they had seven children. Harriet was an avid writer, contributing to periodicals and local publications, in addition to her poetry, children's books, and novels. In 1850 Calvin Stowe accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Maine, and the Stowe's moved east. The anti-slavery movement was heating up, especially in the Northeast, after the passage of The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which forced Northern law enforcement officers to aid in the recapture of runaways. Anyone of color was suspect, whether or not they were runaways. Many former slaves feared for their own safety, and many were fleeing to Canada, along with the fugitive slaves. Harriet saw the power of the pen as her way to force the nation to look at its immoral system. Her answer to all the injustice that she witnessed was her belief in herself as a writer and her belief that people would side with her if they knew the truth. She needed to tell the nation what it should have already known, that slavery was unjust, immoral, and evil. This was her mission when she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Attempting to get her work published, she accepted a Washington anti-slavery newspaper's offer to publish it in serial form. It ran in The National Era as a series of 40 installments, to a readership that was already anti-slavery anyway. But the serial did attract the attention of a Boston publisher, J.P. Jewett. He contacted Harriet, and they agreed to publish it as a novel. When it was published in 1852, it was an immediate success. By 1857 Uncle Tom's Cabin had sold over a half a million copies. It gained international fame and has been published in scores of languages. Although she wrote dozens of novels and stories in her lifetime, none reached the heights that Uncle Tom's Cabin did. This one work spawned such an unprecedented amount of enthusiasm, indignation, and controversy that it certainly accomplished her mission: to bring the immorality of slavery to the forefront of American thought.

We do not know for sure whether Abraham Lincoln really said these words, but it has often been said that when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he greeted her as "the little lady who made this big 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. Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896 at Hartford, Connecticut. She lived to be 85 years old.

Everyone should have a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in their home. Click here to purchase the Modern Library edition of this very important American novel.

After Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, Harriet Beecher Stowe was deluged not only with encouragement and praise, but also with criticisms and questions about her novel. In response, she wrote and published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon Which the Story is Founded. It is a testimonial to her powerful influence on American history that this supplement to Uncle Tom's Cabin is still available today.
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