*Post written by James Wethington, library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
On this day in 1811, American author Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016). Stowe served as a pioneer in a time where women did not have a prominent role or voice in American society. Growing up in a turbulent time where the United States was torn apart over the issue of slavery, Stowe cemented her legacy in American literature with her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and political activism against slavery (Goodreads, n.d.). Today, we celebrate the life and the legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Stowe was the sixth out of eleven children between Lyman and Roxanna Stowe. At a young age, her parents expected all eleven children to contribute to society in a meaningful way, and they did in various ways (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 2015). Stowe received a formal education, attending Hartford Female Seminary from 1824 to 1827, founded by her sister, Catherine (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016; Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 2015). While there, she found her true talent: writing.
She traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio with her sister and father in 1832 working as a teacher at a local school. While in Cincinnati, she met her future husband, Calvin Stowe, a theology professor; however, in 1850, the Stowe’s moved to Brunswick, Maine (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 2015).
Soon after moving to Maine, Stowe began to work on Uncle’s Tom Cabin. The story is based on “… her reading of abolitionist literature and on her personal observations in Ohio and Kentucky” (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016). The story was not published like as a novel but as a forty-five week serial in The National Era, an abolitionist newspaper in 1851 (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 2015; Kane, 2015). It was published as a two volume set in 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was extremely popular and controversial (primarily in the Southern United States where it was banned) throughout the United States and the world. To put into perspective, it was the second best-selling book in the 19th Century, behind the Bible, and translated into sixty different languages (Kane, 2015; Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 2015). After it was published, Stowe continued to write novels but they were mildly successful in comparison to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She participated in speaking tours throughout the United States raising awareness on various social issues. Beecher passed away on July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut (Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).
At the University Archives and Special Collections, there are three copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin located in our rare books collection. If you are interested in viewing these one-of-a-kind originals, feel free to visit the University Archives and Special Collections during our normal business hours. As Stowe quoted, “The truth is the kindest thing we can give folks in the end.” She lived that quote out in her life and Harriet left an indelible mark upon American literature and history.
Kane, K. (2015 March 2015). Harriet Beecher Stowe and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”: Changing history with a best-seller. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/news/uncle-toms-cabin-harriet-beecher-stowe
Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (21 December 2016). Harriet Beecher Stowe. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harriet-Beecher-Stowe
Goodreads (n.d.). Harriet Beecher Stowe. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/26242.Harriet_Beecher_Stowe?from_search=true
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (2015). Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life. Retrieved from https://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/hbs/