Stowe, Harriet Beecher (Civil War, American)

(18 11-1896)

Prolific writer primarily remembered for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which dealt with issues of slavery and was published in 1850. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writings intensified the debate on the subject of slavery that raged prior to the American Civil War. According to folklore, when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he reputedly said, "So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" ( 2004).

Harriet Beecher was born into a devoutly religious family in Litchfield, Connecticut, the youngest of seven children. Her mother died when she was five, and she and her siblings were reared by her minister father, who physically and verbally abused them. At age twelve she was sent to the Hartford Female Seminary and placed under the tutelage of her oldest sister, a strict disciplinarian who soon had young Harriet assisting in teaching duties at the seminary.

In 1832 Harriet’s father moved the family to Cincinnati, where he assumed the post of president of Lane Theological Seminary. It was in Cincinnati that Harriet Beecher joined a social and literary club called the Semi-Colons, which boasted many key literary figures as members. In 1836 she married Calvin Stowe, a widowed professor and Semi-Colon member who was nine years her senior. Harriet assumed the duties of wife and mother and took care of the family home, reared the children, and wrote articles for a number of magazines, journals, and newspapers. By the early 1840s her articles on domestic life, religion, temperance, politics, and gender issues made Harriet Beecher Stowe one of the most successful authors of her era.

Stowe became increasingly interested in the growing controversy surrounding the issue of slavery. Although she was not a fervent abolitionist, her book about the horrors of slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, became a huge literary success, despite the fact that abolitionist literature was very unpopular with many people at the time. The book was based on her research of an-tislavery literature, and its characters were drawn from actual escaped slaves the author met in Boston. There were many condemnations of the book, for which she published a rebuttal in A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853. In 1856 she published another novel about slavery, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The author attracted the attention of many notable people, including Britain’s Queen Victoria and the author and sociologist Harriet Martineau.

Stowe took vacation trips to Europe during the 1850s, possibly to escape the barrage of criticism aimed at her controversial works on the issue of slavery. Throughout the remainder of her life, however, she continued to write. In 1864 she and her husband returned to Connecticut, and from the late 1860s until the early 1880s the couple spent their winters in Florida, where she wrote descriptive accounts of that state. Calvin Stowe died in 1886, and Harriet died in 1896.

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