Harriet Beecher Stowe was born into a severe Calvinist household in Litchfield, Connecticut. From there, she moved to Hartford to live with her older sister Catherine, the founder of the Hartford Female Seminary. After completing her education at the Seminary, Harriet became one of its teachers until 1832, when she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her father Lyman Beecher (1775–1863) was made president of the Lane Theological Seminary. He later lost a number of students who left the seminary to protest Lyman’s conservative position on Abolition, as evidenced in his supporting the colonization of free black slaves in Africa. Stowe’s brother Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887) began his influential preaching career in Cincinnati, supporting women’s suffrage and condemning slavery. Stowe began her writing career, in this border state, where she experienced first-hand the rising tensions over the slavery issue.
Image 4.16. Harriet Beecher Stowe
In 1836, Stowe married Calvin Stowe (1802–1886), one of the professors at Lane Theological Seminary, and bore eight children. Stowe sold stories to augment their income. The Mayflower, a collection of these stories, was published 1843. She also opposed slavery in “Immediate Emancipation—A Sketch” published in 1845. The same year as the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, she and her husband moved to Maine, where Calvin Stowe taught at Bowdoin College.
There, at the prompting of a vision from God, Stowe wrote the book that made her famous, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It ran from 1851 to 1852 as a serial in The National Era, an Abolitionist newspaper. When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form in 1852, it sold over 300,000 copies. It eventually sold in the millions, was performed as a stage drama, and was translated into several languages. Stowe became a celebrated figure in America and Europe. The impact this book had on American history was summed up by Abraham Lincoln who, upon first meeting Stowe, said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.” Stowe had hoped to convert true Christian hearts towards a voluntary aversion of slavery through her sympathetic depiction of the suffering and cruelties slaves endured.
She became a celebrated Abolitionist author, traveling to Europe in 1853; meeting with such black Abolitionist authors as Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass; publishing another anti-slavery novel entitled Dred; A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), and contributing to The Independent. Very much a product of its time, Uncle Tom’s Cabin contributed to the popular nineteenth-century genre of domestic fiction, novels that viewed culture and society from the woman’s perspective.
Stowe promoted the centrality of the woman’s perspective and the importance of women to society in her other works, including Pink and White Tyranny: A Society Novel (1871) and We and Our Neighbors (1875).