Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811. Her father was Rev. Lyman Beecher. He was a famous Congregationalist minister that preached antislavery sermons. His ministry had a profound influence on his family. They frequently had family debates on the important events of the day. His life was dedicated to saving souls, and his children carried out his commitment to their religion. They felt that taking action in society to make a better world was the best way to serve God. Harriet’s career in writing shows that she carried out her father’s vision. Her mother was Roxanna Foot Beecher. She died from tuberculosis when Harriet was just four years old. Roxanna was the granddaughter of General Andrew Ward. Lyman and Roxanna had nine children. Through memories told by her older siblings, Harriet pursued the same goal as her mother as she was always interested in improving herself through education. A couple of years after her mother’s death her father remarried Harriet Porter Harriet who soon won the affections of all the children. Lyman and Harriet had four children.
Harriet pursued a quality education. She first attended Litchfield Academy. After moving to Hartford, Connecticut in 1824, Harriet went to the Hartford Female Seminary which was founded in 1823 by her sister Catherine Beecher. Harriet acquired a rare education under the teaching methods of her sister. Under Catherine’s guidance, Harriet began to expand her abilities as a writer. Later, she became a teacher there. When Harriet’s father accepted a job appointment as President at the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, she soon moved there as well. Harriet taught at the Western Female Institute in Cincinnati which was established in 1832 by her sister Catherine.
Harriet first started writing when she wrote a geography book for children with her sister. Her literary career began in 1834 when she won a contest at the Western Monthly Magazine. She then became a regular contributor writing stories and essays. The Mayflower was the first book she published in 1843. Harriet published over 30 works in her career but her most famous work was an antislavery novel entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin which she wrote in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
While in Cincinnati Harriet met Professor Calvin Stowe and they were married on January 5, 1836. The Stowe’s had seven children. The first two were twins Harriet Beecher (1836-1907) and Eliza Taylor Stowe (1836-1912). Within the next 14 years following the twins were Henry Ellis (1838-1857), Frederick William (1840-1870), Georgiana May (1843-1890), Samuel Charles (1848-1849), and Charles Edward (1850-1934). Only three of their children survived them. They lost four of their children. Samuel Charles died of Cholera at the age of eighteen months. Henry drowned while swimming in the Connecticut River at the age of nineteen. He was at the end of his freshmen year at Dartmouth College. Their son Frederick was an alcoholic who never recovered from wounds he sustained in the Civil War at Gettysburg. He just disappeared in San Francisco never to be heard from again. Their daughter Georgiana married and died in her forties after her declining health from a morphine addiction caused by its use as a painkiller after her son was born. Doctors at that time did not realize its addictive properties. The three surviving children were a comfort to their parents. The twins, Eliza and Harriet, were never married and stayed with their parents. Charles Edward was an ordained minister. He married and had three children. Harriet became incapacitated in 1888, two years after her husband died. She died July 1, 1896 in her home in Hartford, Connecticut.
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Out of her many writings, her most famous is Uncle Tom’s Cabin published first as installments in the newspaper, National Era from June 1851-April 1852 and later in book form. Uncle Tom's Cabin is the book that made her famous. The book was about slaves and their freedom. This book caused much controversy regarding its views of slavery and thrust her into instant fame. It was her experiences of meeting and hearing stories from escaped slaves while living in Cincinnati, Ohio which bordered the slave state of Kentucky and her own personal losses which inspired her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When asked why she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin she stated, “I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity-because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.” She also said, “I could not control the story, the Lord himself wrote it. I was but an instrument in His hands and to Him should be given all the praise.” This book stirred such a controversy about the injustices of slavery that she has been attributed to the cause of the Civil War. According to some descriptions upon her meeting Abraham Lincoln in 1862 he said, “So you’re the little lady that started this Great War!”