Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Harriet Elizabeth Stowe (Beecher)

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States
Death: July 01, 1896 (85)
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States (result of a paralytic stroke)
Place of Burial: Andover, Essex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Rev. Lyman Beecher and Roxana Ward Beecher
Wife of Rev. Calvin Ellis Stowe
Mother of Harriet Beecher Stowe; Eliza Tyler Stowe; Henry Ellis Stowe; Lt. Frederick William Stowe, USA; Georgianna May Allen and 5 others
Sister of Catharine Esther Beecher; William Henry Beecher; Edward Beecher; Mary Foote Perkins; George Beecher and 2 others
Half sister of Frederick Porter Beecher; Isabella Hooker; Rev. Thomas Kinnicut Beecher; Brevet Brig. Gen. James Chaplin Beecher, (USA); Frederick William Beecher and 1 other

Occupation: Writer, author
Managed by: Ivy Jo Smith
Last Updated:

About Harriet Beecher Stowe

Author of Uncle Tom's Cabin


Harriet Beecher Stowe

Introduction

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) is best known today as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which helped galvanize the abolitionist cause and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. Uncle Tom's Cabin sold over 10,000 copies in the first week and was a best seller of its day. After the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe became an internationally acclaimed celebrity and an extremely popular author. In addition to novels, poetry and essays, she wrote non-fiction books on a wide range of subjects including homemaking and the raising of children, and religion. She wrote in an informal conversational style, and presented herself as an average wife and mother.

Harriet Beecher Stowe as a writer

Harriet Beecher Stowe's writing career spanned 51 years, during which time she published 30 books and countless shorter pieces. Harriet made time for writing in her life while she was busy raising seven children and managing a household. She was fortunate in having the support of her husband Calvin Stowe who always encouraged his wife in her career. This kind of support from a husband was unusual at the time when women were not expected to have a career outside the home.

A comprehensive bibliography for Harriet Beecher Stowe can be found at the following web site: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/stowe/stowbib.html

Childhood and education

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, where her father, the Reverend Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), was a prominent and influential Congregational minister. Her mother, Roxanna Foote Beecher(1775-1816), who died when Harriet was only five, was always interested in improving herself educationally. Harriet pursued this same goal throughout her life.

In 1820, Lyman preached anti-slavery sermons in response to the issue of whether Missouri should be admitted to the union as a slave or a free state. Lyman's dynamic preaching, religious energy and commitment had a profound impact on all of his children. He encouraged an intellectual environment at home and would often lead family debates on important issues of the day. Lyman Beecher dedicated his life to the saving of individual souls. He believed that unless an individual made a personal commitment to the Christian religion that he/she was doomed. All of Lyman's children carried out Lyman's commitment to their religion, but in a new way. They thought of God as much more loving and forgiving, and believed that the best way of serving God was to take action in society to make a better world. Harriet's career as a writer shows how she acted out this vision.

Harriet was one of eleven brothers and sisters, many of whom became famous reformers. Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), a noted minister in Brooklyn, New York, was active in the abolitionist movement. Catharine Beecher (1800-1878) founded many schools for young women throughout the country and was a prolific author while her youngest sister, Isabella (1822-1907), became active in the women's suffrage movement.

Harriet was first a student and then a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, a school founded by her sister Catharine. At that time, Hartford Female Seminary was one of only a handful of schools that took the education of girls seriously. Catharine introduced many innovations at the school including teaching physical education and domestic science (home economics), and the practice of student government. At that time girls were expected to remain at home and needed very little education. Catharine helped to change these ideas. She argued that running a home was as complicated as running an office and that young women should be instructed in these duties the same way boys should be instructed in careers outside the home. Catharine also stressed the importance of written expression. Her students spent many hours composing essays. As a result of Catharine's teaching methods, Harriet received an unusually fine education, and, under her sister's guidance, began to develop her talent as a writer.

For more information on the Beecher family, visit the following site: www.newman.baruch.cuny.edu/digital/2001/beecher/

Marriage and children

In 1832 Harriet moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lyman Beecher became President of Lane Theological Seminary. At that time, Cincinnati was considered the western frontier of the United States. In Cincinnati, Harriet met and married Calvin E. Stowe, a professor at Lane. Six of the Stowes' seven children were born in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati was just across the river from Kentucky, a slave state. It was in Cincinnati that Harriet first became aware of the horrors of slavery. Cincinnati was one of the largest cities in the country, twice the size of Hartford at that time. When Harriet and Calvin learned that their servant, Zillah, was actually a runaway slave, Calvin and Henry Ward drove her to the next station on the Underground Railroad. One night, Harriet's friend, Mr. Rankin, saw a young woman run across the river over the ice with a baby in her arms. This story moved Harriet deeply and would later become one of the most famous scenes in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In Cincinnati, Harriet became a member of the Semi-Colon Club, a local literary society in which members wrote articles which were read and discussed by other participants. Her experiences in this club sharpened her writing style. During her early married years, Harriet began to publish stories and magazine articles to supplement the family income. While she lived in Cincinnati, Harriet co-authored a book, Primary Geography for Children. After the publication of this book Harriet received a special commendation from the bishop of Cincinnati because it conveyed a positive image of the Catholic religion. Harriet's religious tolerance was unusual for Protestants at the time.

In 1850 Professor Stowe joined the faculty of his alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The Stowe family moved to Maine and lived in Brunswick until 1853.

The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin, which appeared first in serial form in an abolitionist newspaper, The National Era, in 1851-52, was written largely in Brunswick. In 1852 the story was published in book form in two volumes. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a best seller in the United States, England, Europe, Asia, and translated into over 60 languages. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which deeply distressed Harriet, was a factor in inspiring her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin. This Act made it a crime for citizens of free states to give aid to runaway enslaved people.

Uncle Tom's Cabin humanized slavery by telling the story of individuals and families. Harriet portrayed the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse endured by enslaved people. When she created the character of Eliza, the slave mother, Harriet drew upon her own experiences. In 1849 Harriet's own son Charley died of cholera when he was only eighteen months old. While remembering Charley's death, Harriet thought about how terrible it would be for a slave mother to lose a child because the child was sold. She wondered how a slave mother would feel, never knowing what happened to her own child. In chapter seven, aptly titled "A Mother's Struggle", she hoped to convey to others the terror the fugitive slave mother would feel:

"If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, tomorrow morning, — if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o'clock till morning to make good your escape, — how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom, — the little sleepy head on your shoulder, — the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?"

Harriet's feelings about both the Fugitive Slave Act and the death of Charley are conveyed in Uncle Tom's Cabin in her description of the desperate flight of Eliza, a slave mother. Eliza runs across a frozen river with her son Harry in her arms to save him from being sold. Thus, the book grew out of a combination of personal and political concerns.

Many readers criticized Harriet because she had never visited the South. However, she had heard, from people she knew personally, first hand stories of conditions among the enslaved people. For example, Harriet employed an African-American woman in Cincinnati who told her what is was like to be a woman under slavery.

To learn more about Uncle Tom's Cabin, visit this site: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/utc/

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Slavery, and the Civil War

According to legend, when Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862 he said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!"

The Civil War grew out of a mixture of causes including regional conflicts between North and South, economic trends, and humanitarian concerns for the welfare of enslaved people. This war, which pitted one section of the country against another, almost destroyed the United States. Uncle Tom's Cabin contributed to the outbreak of war because it brought the evils of slavery to the attention of Americans more vividly than any other book had done before. The book had a strong emotional appeal that moved and inspired people in a way that political speeches, tracts and newspapers accounts could not duplicate.

Immediately after its publication Uncle Tom's Cabin was both lauded as a tremendous achievement and attacked as one sided and inaccurate. Abolitionists and reformers praised the book for its compassionate portrayal of people held in slavery. At the same time, others, who claimed that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, attacked Harriet and accused her of fabricating unrealistic images of slavery.

During the Civil War, Harriet often disagreed with President Lincoln. Lincoln's concern with preserving the unity of the nation and his willingness to postpone freeing the slaves made her impatient.

The Influence and Popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin

After the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet was invited to the British Isles in 1853, where she was greeted enthusiastically. She returned to Britain and Europe in 1856 and 1859.

Through a column in a large New York newspaper, The Independent, she urged the women of the United States to use their influence against slavery by obtaining signatures on petitions, spreading information, and inviting lecturers to speak to community groups on the subject.

Later years

From Brunswick, the Stowe's moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin became a professor of theology at Andover Theological Seminary from 1853 to 1864. After his retirement, the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Here Harriet Beecher Stowe built her dream house, Oakholm, but the high maintenance cost and the encroachment of factories caused her to sell it in 1870. In 1873, she moved to her last home, the brick Victorian Gothic cottage-style house on Forest Street, which visitors may see today.

Calvin Stowe, husband (1802 - 1886)

During the Hartford years Calvin wrote the Origin and History of the Books of the Bible (American Publishing Company, 1867). This scholarly work was one of the first books to examine the Bible from an historical point of view. The book sold so well that Calvin received $10,000 in royalties, which was considered a high amount at the time.

Calvin's reminiscences of his boyhood in Natick, Massachusetts, provided Harriet with the basic material for Oldtown Folks, (published 1869) and Sam Lawson's Oldtown Fireside Stories (published 1872).

Throughout their marriage, Calvin encouraged Harriet in her career as an author. In a letter he wrote to her in 1840 he said, "my dear, you must be a literary woman. It is so written in the book of fate... Make all your calculations accordingly."

The Stowe Children

Harriet and Calvin had seven children. Only three of the children survived them.

The Stowe twins, Eliza (1836-1912) and Harriet (1836-1907), never married and lived with their parents. When the twins were young, Harriet worried that they were becoming too frivolous. Her feelings contributed to the characterization of the young women in her book My Wife and I and We and Our Neighbors. As adults, the twins were competent and responsible women who managed the family home and participated in the social and cultural life of Hartford.

Henry Ellis (1838-1857). Henry drowned at age nineteen while swimming in the Connecticut River at Hanover, New Hampshire, at the end of his freshman year at Dartmouth College. Harriet describes a mother's reaction to her son's death in The Minister's Wooing.

Frederick William (1840-1870?). Frederick had originally hoped to become a doctor and studied medicine. Fred, however, developed a problem with alcoholism. When Fred enlisted in the Civil War, his parents were very worried about his ability to withstand the stress of battle. Fred was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). After his injury, his alcoholism became much worse. After many unsuccessful attempts to conquer his addiction, Fred went to California in 1870 and was never heard from again. Most historians believe that he died shortly after arriving on the West Coast, but no one will ever know for sure. Fred was the inspiration for the character of Tom Bolton in We and Our Neighbors and My Wife and I. In these books Harriet described alcoholism as an illness. Her attitude was very modern since, at that time, most people believed that alcoholism was a moral failure.

Georgiana May (1843-1890) usually called "Georgie" was probably the most talented of the Stowe children. A mischievous and lively young girl, Georgie provided part of the inspiration for the character of Topsey in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Georgie had a difficult life as an adult. Georgie was given morphine as a painkiller after the birth of her son and became addicted. At that time most doctors were still unaware of the powerful addictive properties of narcotics. Georgie was married to Henry Allen, an Episcopal priest.

Samuel Charles (1848-1849) known as "Charley," died during a cholera epidemic in Cincinnati in 1849. Harriet's feelings about Charley's death led to her description of slave mothers in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Charles Edward (1850-1934) also called "Charley." Our Charley is based on Charles Stowe as a child. Charles Stowe was ordained as a minister in 1878. He married Susan Monroe and had three children. From the mid 1880's until the late 1890's he was minister of the Simsbury, Connecticut, Congregational Church, not far from his parents' home in Hartford.

The Winter Home in Mandarin Florida

In the 1860's the Stowes purchased property in Mandarin, Florida, on the St. John's River, built a house, and began to travel South each winter. While in Florida Harriet helped establish schools for African American children and fostered the development of an ecumenical church open to members of all denominations. Harriet's brother Charles Beecher (1815-1900) joined the Stowes in Florida, to help the cause of the newly freed people.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and her neighbor, Mark Twain

The Stowes moved into their Forest Street home in Hartford in 1873. A year later Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain and his family moved into an elaborate house just across the lawn. Clemens wrote his most famous books while he was living in this house, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens were a generation younger than the Stowes. Sam Clemens was just about the same age as the Stowe twins, Harriet and Eliza. The two families were friendly and often visited each other.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe's Timeline

1811
June 14, 1811
Litchfield, Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States
1836
September 29, 1836
Age 25
Cincinnati, Hamilton County, OH, United States
September 29, 1836
Age 25
Cincinnati, Hamilton County, OH, United States
1838
January 1838
Age 26
Cincinnati, Hamilton County, OH, United States
1840
May 6, 1840
Age 28
Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, United States
1843
May 25, 1843
Age 31
Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States
1848
January 1848
Age 36
Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States
1850
July 8, 1850
Age 39
Brunswick, Cumberland County, ME, United States
1890
1890
Age 78
Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, United States