Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe an American abolitionist, author and one of the most influential women of the 19th century best known for her novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. Born into a prominent family, Beecher grew up with her father, Lyman Beecher, a Presbyterian preacher and her twelve siblings. Beecher’s mother Roxana Foote Beecher died when she was around three or four years old leaving Harriet and her six siblings behind. When Harriet turned five, she began receiving her first schooling at a local Dame School which was conducted by Ma’am Kilbourne, someone who took delight in confusing Harriet and her classmates.
By the age of six, Harriet’s father married his second wife, Harriet Porter who bore him four children. In June 1820, Harriet lost her brother Frederick to scarlet fever and that same year she was infected, but after struggling she was able to recover. In her tenth year, Harriet became fascinated with writing that by the age of twelve, one of her essays was chosen to be read aloud before the August assembly, an occasion which attracted visitors. Harriet’s knowledge in reading promoted her to reading the Bible, the “Columbian Orator,” to solving sums in “Daboll’s Arithmetic,” and to writing in quill pens. By the time Harriet turned 13, she was able to accomplish her goal of enrolling into the Litchfield Female Academy, but shortly after her family decided to move to Connecticut in 1824.
Beecher’s older sister Catherine established the Hartford Female Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, where Harriet continued her education until 1827. At approximately the age of 16, Harriet began teaching at Hartford until 1832 when her family once again decided to move to Cincinnati, Ohio due to her father becoming the director of the Lane Theological Seminary and Catherine failing to obtain financial funding to keep Hartford running. Once the family established in Ohio, Catherine opened a second school known as the Western Female Institute where Harriet was able to continue teaching.
While living in Ohio, Harriet was able to study Latin and romance languages. In the winter of 1833, Stowe entered into a short story competition that offered a fifty-dollar prize to the best short story. Harriet submitted her story titled “Uncle Lot,” afterward republished in the “Mayflower.” Stowe was awarded the prize without hesitation which motivated her even more to continue her writing. It was in Ohio where Beecher became involved and concerned with the social issues of the day. After five years of teaching at the Western Female Institute, it was shut down in 1836 once again due to not being able to find financial support.
On January 6, 1836, Beecher married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor whom she met in a literary club (Bickerstaff). Now known as Mrs. Stowe, she and her husband committed to abolishing slavery and both took part in the Underground Railroad, housing fugitive slaves. Calvin encouraged Harriet’s writing and motivated her to create short stories and sketches. During Harriet’s first year of marriage, she bore twin daughters; Eliza Tyler and Isabella named by the fond mother, but when Calvin returned from his journey in England he insisted on changing Isabella’s name to Harriet. After her two daughters, next came two sons Henry Ellis and Frederick William born in 1838 and 1840.
While still residing in Ohio, the Stowe family suffered a near-famine in which Harriet’s health began to decline. Harriet then decided to attend a family reunion back in Hartford in which she was able to see and meet the majority of her siblings. On July 6, 1843, a few weeks before the birth of her fifth child Stowe received shocking news that one of her brothers, George Beecher had accidentally shot himself and was dead. Stowe confessed, “the death of George shook my whole soul like an earthquake” (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center). That same year Stowe completed what was her first book “Sketches of Scenes and Characters Among the Descendants of the Pilgrims” also known as “The Mayflower” which was not published until 10 years later in 1853.
In 1848 Stowe gave birth to her sixth child, Samuel Charles who died at 18 months due to a dread disease. In 1849 Stowe’s husband was offered a job at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he had graduated from and without hesitation, Stowe took three of her children in advanced until Calvin found someone who could replace him in Cincinnati after having lived there for 17 years. Stowe’s seventh and final child, Charles Edward was born in 1850.
That same year, Congress passed a revised Fugitive Slave Law, which made it illegal for anyone to help a fugitive slave, allowing slave owners to travel into the free states to reclaim them, but that did not stop Stowe from helping fugitive slaves. Stowe and her husband sharing a strong belief in abolition decided to begin a contract in 1851 with The National Era, an anti-slavery magazine, for a story that would “paint a word picture of slavery,” for Northerners who had never witnessed it first-hand, as a way to galvanize them to action against the institution of slavery.
On March 2, 1851, Stowe began writing what was her most famous piece, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” having the first edition appear in the “National Era.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin was later published on March 20, 1852, capturing the nation’s attention causing an uproar in the South regarding the abolition of slavery. In 1856 Stowe traveled to England to talk about slavery and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She also publishes her second novel, Dred, A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, the story of an escaped slave. Hard times came to the Stowe family when their son Henry Ellis died in 1857 at the age of 19, in a swimming accident near Dartmouth College of Hanover in New Hampshire which led her to the writing of The Minister’s Wooing, a story that deals with the grief of her lost son.
Stowe had major events occur throughout her lifetime, on April 12, 1861 the Civil War began, meeting president Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to the establishment of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to Lincoln being assassinated on April 14, 1865, and to Congress adopting the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery everywhere in the United States. Several years later Harriet and her sister, Catherine published The American’s Women Home, as well as Old Town Folks. Harriet once again loses another son, Frederick William an alcoholic in 1870, who moved to California and is never heard from again (Bickerstaff).
In the 1880s Harriet and her family moved to Mandarin, Florida where they founded an Episcopal Church. Harriet then spent the last of her 23 years back in her hometown in Hartford, Connecticut. As the years went by Harriet experienced the death of several loved ones, from her sister Catherine’s death in 1878 to her husbands in 1886 as well as her brother Henry in 1887 and her youngest daughter in 1890. On July 1, 1896, Harriet Beecher Stowe died in her sleep at the age of 85 at her home in Hartford, Connecticut and until this day Harriet is remembered as one of the most influential women of the 19th century.