Harriet B. Stowe

From Ohio History Central
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Engraving showing Harriet Beecher Stowe. Although she is best known for Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe published thirty books and many shorter pieces. While living near the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio, Stowe saw firsthand the horror of slavery across the river in Kentucky.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American author and abolitionist in the years before the American Civil War.

Stowe was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her father, Lyman Beecher, placed a strong emphasis on education. He was a Congregational minister and dedicated his life to his religion and to helping others. Stowe received her formal education at Hartford Female Seminary. The school had been opened and operated by Stowe's sister, Catharine Beecher. After graduating, Stowe became a teacher at the seminary.

In 1832, the Beecher family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lyman Beecher had accepted a position as president of Lane Theological Seminary. Harriet accompanied her father. While in Cincinnati, she met Calvin Stowe, a professor at the seminary. The two fell in love and later were married.

During the 1830s, Stowe became an abolitionist. Slavery had been prohibited north of the Ohio River since the passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Cincinnati was immediately north of the state of Kentucky where slavery was legal. Thousands of fugitive slaves passed through Cincinnati as they traveled to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Stowe became friends with several Ohio abolitionists. Among them was John Rankin, whose home in Ripley, Ohio served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The stories that she heard from fugitive slaves and Underground Railroad conductors while she lived in Cincinnati formed the basis of her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In 1850, Calvin Stowe accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. While in Maine Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 inspired her to write the novel. She objected to the federal government actively assisting slave owners in their efforts to reclaim fugitive slaves in Northern states. Like William Lloyd Garrison, Stowe realized that most Northerners had never witnessed slavery firsthand. Most Northern people had no idea how brutal slavery could be. Through Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe sought to humanize slavery. She wanted to educate them about the brutalities of the institution. She hoped that her readers would rise up against slavery if they understood the beatings, the brutality, and the division of families that sometimes occurred.

Because Uncle Tom's Cabin was a work of fiction, Stowe was criticized for her supposedly inaccurate portrayal of slavery. Stowe's novel was based on extensive research with former slaves and with active participants, both whites and blacks, with the Underground Railroad. Despite the criticism, the book became a bestseller. An abolitionist newspaper, The National Era, originally published the book as a serial in 1851 and 1852. In 1852, the story was published in book form and sold more than 500,000 copies in its first five years in print. It brought slavery to life for many people. The book did not make these people into devoted abolitionists, but Uncle Tom's Cabin did cause more and more Northerners to consider ending the institution of slavery. In 1862, Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln while she was visiting Washington, DC. Lincoln reportedly said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!"

Stowe became an instant celebrity thanks to Uncle Tom's Cabin. She traveled extensively to promote her book and encouraged other people to protest slavery. In 1853, she moved with her husband to Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin Stowe had accepted a teaching position at the Andover Theological Seminary. He retired in 1864, and the Stowes moved to Hartford, Connecticut. She continued to write and published thirty books before her death in 1896.

See Also


  1. Booth, Stephane Elise. Buckeye Women: The History of Ohio's Daughters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001.
  2. Crozier, Alice C. The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1969.  
  3. McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988.  
  4. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.  
  5. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.  
  6. Wagenknecht, Edward. Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Known and the Unknown. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1965.  
  7. White, Barbara Anne. The Beecher Sisters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.  
  8. Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.