Harriet Beecher Stowe


There’s a comment famously attributed to US President Abraham Lincoln, that when he met Harriett Beecher Stowe, he said: "So this is the little lady who started this great war.” By that, he mean the Civil War. But all Harriet really did was write a novel that became the 19th century’s best-selling book after the Bible.

Harriett Beecher Stowe was part of a family – parents, brothers and sisters – of “abolitionists,” activists who campaigned against slavery. Because her father was a minister and educator, she received a proper education, which was unusual for woman born just about anywhere in the world in 1811. After moving to Cincinnati from Connecticut with her family, Harriett Beecher met and married Calvin Stowe. Like the Beechers, Calvin, a university professor, was also an ardent abolitionist. Together the two worked to dismantle slavery, mostly by helping runaways on the underground railroad.

By 1851, the Beecher Stowes had moved to Maine, where Calvin taught at Bowdoin College (one of his students would be future Civil War hero and college president Joshua Chamberlain). After the death of their infant son, Harriett wrote that she was moved to honor the everyday tragedies endured by the enslaved. She began writing a story, in installments, for the newspaper: The National Era.

The full story was released in book form in 1852 as Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Life Among the Lowly. It told an unvarnished tale of the gross cruelties slaves endured at the hands of their owners. It detailed the slave-hunting industry that existed to track down those who escaped captivity.

The book was a sensation, sparking outrage on both sides of the issue. In the slave states, it gave birth to a 'fake news' literary trend that sought to portray slave owners as humanitarians. It fueled passions on both sides of a divided nation, leading to a brutal civil war a decade later.

Harriet died in 1896, at the age of 85. For those of you nearby or on the road in the US this summer, there are Harriet Beecher Stowe Houses in both Brunswick, Maine and Hartford, Connecticut.

It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.
— Harriet Beecher Stowe

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