Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe
by Francis Holl
- Occupation: Author
- Born: June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut
- Died: July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut
- Best known for: Writing the book Uncle Tom's Cabin about slavery
Harriet was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She grew up in a big family with five brothers and three sisters. Her mother died from tuberculosis when Harriet was just five years old. Her father, Lyman, was a minister who wanted all of his sons to be ministers as well.
Harriet loved to read as a child. One of her favorite books was The Arabian Nights. She went to school at the Hartford Female Seminary where her older sister Catharine worked. Eventually, Harriet began to teach at the school as well.
Moving to Ohio and Getting Married
In 1832 Harriet and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where her father became president of the Lane Theological Seminary. Harriet got another job teaching and began to write professionally.
Harriet became close friends with Eliza and Calvin Stowe. Eliza became one of her closest friends, but soon became sick and died. After Eliza's death, Harriet and Calvin fell in love and married in 1836. They eventually had seven children together including four boys and three girls.
Learning About Slavery
Growing up in Connecticut, Harriet had little contact or knowledge with the reality of slavery in the Southern part of the United States. However, Cincinnati, Ohio was just across the river from Kentucky where slavery was legal. Harriet began to see firsthand how poorly slaves were treated. The more she learned, the more horrified she became.
Uncle Tom's Cabin
In 1851, Harriet began writing a story about slavery. She wanted to help people in the North to understand better the realities of slavery. Initially, a new portion of the story came out each week in a newspaper called the National Era. The story became very popular and the installments were published as an entire book called Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852.
Uncle Tom's Cabin told the story about a kind slave named Tom. Tom is sold a few times between masters until he ends up being owned by plantation owner Simon Legree. Simon Legree is an evil man who likes to beat his slaves. Tom's kindness toward his fellow slaves only makes Simon angrier. When two women slaves escape, Simon tries to force Tom to tell him where they went. Tom refuses and is eventually beaten to death by Simon.
The book became a national best seller. It was not only popular in the United States, but also around the world. People in the North who had not really thought about slavery before, began to understand just how horrible it was. Many people joined the abolitionist movement as a result of reading the book. They wanted slavery outlawed throughout the United States.
The Civil War
Although there were many issues and causes to the Civil War, there is no doubt that Uncle Tom's Cabin educated people on the horrors of slavery and had an impact in helping Abraham Lincoln get elected. It was certainly one of the causes that led to the Civil War.
Interesting Facts About Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Harriet met President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. Upon meeting her, Lincoln remarked "so this is the little lady who made this big war."
- When writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet did her own research visiting a plantation with slaves. She also met with former slaves and had them verify that the events in her story were accurate and realistic.
- After people in the South said that the story was inaccurate, Harriet wrote a book called A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin where she documented the real events that occurred on which her story was based.
- The term "Uncle Tom" has become a epithet meaning someone who "sells out" against their own people in order to help themselves. The Uncle Tom in the book is not like this at all. He is a hero in many ways. However, the story of Uncle Tom got twisted in plays and movies until the name "Uncle Tom" became an insult.
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