Harriet Beecher Stowe: Biography, Facts & Books

Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

In this lesson, we will learn about the famous writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe. After a brief biography, we will explore a few fun facts about her, briefly examine her bibliography, and end with a short quiz.

Introduction

If you have not heard of Harriet Beecher Stowe, you probably have still heard of her most famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Written in 1852, the novel received a lot of attention at a significant turning point in American history. Some people credit it, and its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, with helping start the Civil War. At the very least, the novel was an important abolitionist text. In recent years, the book has received negative attention due to the stereotypical characters in it, but both it and Harriet Beecher Stowe's impact on the development of the United States cannot be denied.

Portrait of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Writer and Abolitionist
Harriet Beecher Stowe Portrait

Biography

Born to the Beecher family in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811, Harriet was the middle child of thirteen. Her father was a Congregationalist minister, and many of her siblings went on to be ministers, writers, or teachers.

After the early death of her mother when she was only five, Harriet was enrolled in the seminary run by her older sister, Catherine. There, she received an education, including the study of mathematics; that was unusual for a girl in the 1800s.

When she was 21, Harriet moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father worked in the city at a religious school. Harriet found a literary community in Cincinnati. She met her future husband there, too: Calvin Ellis Stowe. They married in 1836, when Harriet was 25. Calvin, like Harriet, was fiercely against slavery and the two of them helped out with the Underground Railroad, in addition to starting a family together that included seven children.

One of her children died when he was 18 months old from cholera. The pain Harriet suffered over the loss of her son helped deepen her empathy for enslaved parents whose children were taken away from them to be sold to other people.

Although she wrote all her life, Harriet didn't publish Uncle Tom's Cabin until she was 40. Its original title was The Man That Was A Thing. Harriet believed that it was the moral obligation of anyone who was literate to speak out against slavery. Sales exploded, and soon, Uncle Tom's Cabin became the second-best selling book of the century, after the Bible. Due to its popularity, Harriet eventually met President Abraham Lincoln.

Harriet moved to Florida after her brother became the subject of adultery speculations, and in 1886, Harriet's husband, Calvin, died. Within a few years, Harriet's own health started to decline, and in 1896 she died in Hartford, Connecticut. Throughout her entire life, Harriet continued writing, but the subject matter of her books varied wildly, since she had a wide range of interests. None of her books were as popular as Uncle Tom's Cabin, though.

Facts

While Stowe was an exceptional woman and provided with many opportunities rare for a woman of her time, there are some even more interesting facts about her:

  • She helped found the Hartford Art School, later the University of Hartford. Education was always very important and influential in Harriet's life.
  • Stowe heavily researched Uncle Tom's Cabin. When people criticized the realistic aspect of the story, she wrote a second book that details the true events on which her novel is based. This book is called A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin.
  • After her son died when he was 18 months old, Stowe's faith in Christianity, and especially the redemption promised by God, grew.
  • Uncle Tom's cabin was so influential that when Stowe met President Lincoln in 1862, it is rumored that he exclaimed, 'So you're the little lady who started this great war!'
  • Most of the houses that Stowe lived in are still open as museums. Her house in Cincinnati, Ohio, is where she lived until she was married. If you want to see where she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, however, you need to travel to her house in Brunswick, Maine. If you want to see where Harriet lived at the end of her life, you need to travel to Hartford, Connecticut.
  • While visiting her Hartford home, be sure to check out Mark twain's residence. They lived next door to each other!

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