Stowe Harriet Beecher

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1784 –1850), 4th cousin 6x removed

 

Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author.  Her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) was a depiction of life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom.  It energized anti-slavery forces in the American North, while provoking widespread anger in the South.  She wrote more than 20 books, including novels, three travel memoirs and collections of articles and letters.  She was influential both for her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day.  She is the daughter of the outspoken religious leader Lyman Beecher[1].  Harriet enrolled in the seminary (girls’ school) run by her sister Catharine, where she received a traditionally “male” education in the classics, including study of languages and mathematics.  Among her classmates there was Sarah P. Willis, who later wrote under the pseudonym Fanny Fern[2].  At the age of 21, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to join her father, who had become the president of Lane Theological Seminary.  There, she also joined the Semi-Colon Club, a literary salon and social club whose members included the Beecher sisters, Caroline Lee Hentz[3], Salmon P. Chase[4], Emily Blackwell[5], and others.  It was in that group that she met Calvin Ellis Stowe, a widower and professor at the seminary. The two married on 6 Jan 1836.  He was an ardent critic of slavery, and the Stowes supported the Underground Railroad, temporarily housing several fugitive slaves in their home.  In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, prohibiting assistance to fugitives.  At the time, she had moved with her family into a home on the campus of Bowdoin College, where her husband was now teaching.  On 9 Mar 1850, Stowe wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the weekly antislavery journal National Era, that she planned to write a story about the problem of slavery: “I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak… I hope every woman who can write will not be silent.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (originally published in 1852)

Shortly after, In June 1851, when she was 40, the first installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in the National Era.  She originally used the subtitle “The Man That Was A Thing”, but it was soon changed to “Life Among the Lowly”.  Installments were published weekly in 1851-52.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form in 1852 by John P. Jewett with an initial print run of 5,000 copies.  In less than a year, the book sold an unprecedented three hundred thousand copies.  By December, as sales began to wane, Jewett issued an inexpensive edition at 37 1/2 cents each to further inspire sales.   The book’s emotional portrayal of the impact of slavery captured the nation’s attention. It added to the debate about abolition and slavery, and aroused opposition in the South.  Within a year, 300 babies were named “Eva” in Boston alone and a play based on the book opened in New York in November of that year.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Stowe traveled to Washington, D.C. and there met President Abraham Lincoln on 25 Nov 1862.  Legend has it that, upon meeting her, he greeted her by saying, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”  In reality, little is known about the meeting.  Mrs. Stowe was also among the founders of the Hartford Art School which later became part of the University of Hartford.  She is buried in the historic cemetery at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

 

Harriet Elizabeth Beecher (1811 – 1896), 4th cousin 6x removed – Lyman Beecher (1775 – 1863), 3rd cousin 7x removed – Esther Lyman (1749 – 1775) – Hope Hawley (1719 – 1753) – Jehiel Hawley (1685 – 1727) – Samuel Hawley (1647 – 1734) – Joseph Hawley (1675 – 1752) – Elizabeth Hawley (1700 – 1779) – Elizabeth Newell (1721 – 1791) – Elizabeth Clark (1758 – 1840) – Betsy Andrews (1783 – 1856) – David Handley (1809 – 1895) – Elizabeth Handley (1835 – 1917) – Florence Henderson (1869 – 1956) – Florence Eugenie Watkins (1903 – 1985) – Penelope Jane Walholm (1939 – ) – Tor Martin (Majerus) Hylbom

 She is also my:

  • 6th cousin 4x removed on my mother’s side through George Hubbard (1600-1683) and Mary Bishop (1607-1675)
  • 7th cousin 5x removed on my mother’s side through John Birdseye (1571-1649) and his unknown spouse

 


[1] Lyman Beecher is discussed under his own heading elsewhere on this website along with several of Harriet’s notable siblings.

[2] Fanny Fern, born Sara Willis (1811-1872), was an American writer and the first woman to have a regular newspaper column. She was also a humorist, novelist, and author of children’s stories in the 1850s-1870s. Fern’s great popularity has been attributed to her conversational style and sense of what mattered to her mostly middle-class female readers. By 1855, Fern was the highest-paid columnist in the United States, commanding $100 per week for her New York Ledger column. A collection of her columns published in 1853 sold 70,000 copies in its first year. Her best-known work, the fictional autobiography Ruth Hall (1854), has become a popular subject among feminist literary scholars.

[3] Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz (1800-1856) was an American novelist and author, most noted for her opposition to the abolitionist movement and her widely-read rebuttal to the popular anti-slavery book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She was a major literary figure in her day, and helped advance women’s fiction.

[4] Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873) was an American politician and jurist who served as U.S. Senator from Ohio and the 23rd Governor of Ohio, U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln and sixth Chief Justice of the United States. He was one of the most prominent members of the new Republican Party before becoming Chief Justice. Chase articulated the “Slave Power conspiracy” thesis well before Lincoln. He coined the slogan of the Free Soil Party, “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men.” He devoted his energies to the destruction of what he considered the Slave Power – the conspiracy of Southern slave owners to seize control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty.

[5] Emily Blackwell (1826-1910) was the second woman to earn a medical degree at what is now Case Western Reserve University, and the third openly identified woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.

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