Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896) was an American author and abolitionist, whose novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) attacked the cruelty of slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the U.S. and Britain. It made the political issues of the 1850s regarding slavery tangible to millions, energizing anti-slavery forces in the American North. It angered and embittered the South. The impact is summed up in a commonly quoted statement apocryphally attributed to Abraham Lincoln. When he met Stowe, it is claimed that he said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!
While she wrote at least ten adult novels, Harriet Beecher Stowe is predominantly known for her first, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Begun as a serial for the Washington anti-slavery weekly, the National Era, it focused public interest on the issue of slavery, and was deeply controversial. In writing the book, Stowe drew on her personal experience: she was familiar with slavery, the antislavery movement, and the underground railroad because Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Stowe had lived, was a slave state. Following publication of the book, she became a celebrity, speaking against slavery both in America and Europe. She wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853) extensively documenting the realities on which the book was based, to refute critics who tried to argue that it was inauthentic; and published a second anti-slavery novel, Dred in 1856. Campaigners for other social changes, such as Caroline Norton, respected and drew upon her work.
The historical significance of Stowe's antislavery writing has tended to draw attention away from her other work, and from her work's literary significance. Her work is admittedly uneven. At its worst, it indulges in a romanticized Christian sensibility that was much in favor with the audience of her time, but that finds little sympathy or credibility with modern readers. At her best, Stowe was an early and effective realist. Her settings are often accurately and detailedly described. Her portraits of local social life, particularly with minor characters, reflect an awareness of the complexity of the culture she lived in, and an ability to communicate that culture to others. In her commitment to realism, and her serious narrative use of local dialect, Stowe predated works like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn by 30 years, and influenced later regionalist writers including Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman.
Stowe's book had an astounding effect on the northern states of America. Thousands more flocked to the abolitionist side. However, the rift dividing the north and south deepened. Many in the south denied that the book was a true account of southern life, and took it as a slanderous accusation. The book was banned in southern states, and anyone in possession of it could be arrested. In their defense, southerners wrote mocking books praising the good of slavery such as "Aunt Phillis's Cabin; or Southern Life as it is." In response, Stowe gathered all her information and wrote, "A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," written to prove she had researched her topic. Yet it was not read as widely in the south as elsewhere.
However, across the Atlantic in Great Britain, the message of Uncle Tom was also embraced, supported from its inception by the powerful advocate Rev. James Sherman in London. In 1853 Harriet went on a visit to Europe, In London she was a guest of Sherman at Surrey Chapel, who assisted her arrangements for a speaking tour to promote the book. Upon her arrival in England she was given a warm welcome and was presented with an address, known as the Affectionate and Christian Address, from the Anti-Slavery Society, with over half a million signatures from women of all classes. This was given to her in 26 volumes; her reply was printed in the Atlantic Monthly. The head of the Anti-Slavery Society, the Duchess of Sutherland, became close friends with Harriet as well.
At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, Great Britain's thoughts of joining with the South moved Stowe to reply to the British people reminding them of their commitment to the slaves. Britain remained neutral throughout the war. In her journal Stowe wrote about her feelings about the War. She said, "It was God’s will that this nation—both North and South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South... the blood of the poor slave, that had cried so many years from the ground in vain, should be answered by the blood of the sons from the best hearthstones through all the free states." In 1862, Stowe went to see Lincoln to pressure him to free the slaves faster. Her daughter Hattie, who was present at the meeting between Stowe and Lincoln, reports the first thing Lincoln said was, "So you're the little lady who started this Great War." She had a large family, seven siblings and three half-siblings.
Harriet Beecher Stowe later said in her journal, "I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother I was oppressed and brokenhearted, with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity because as a lover of my country I trembled at the coming day of wrath." Many historians consider “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” a significant force in leading to the Civil War, which ended in the abolition of slavery in America. She aided runaway slaves after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. Following the Civil War she built and established several schools and boarding homes for newly freed slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s influence reached people of all walks of life, from government officials, to nobility, down to the common man. In her lifetime she wrote prolifically, yet her influence went beyond words. A book she wrote entitled "How to Live on Christ" so impacted the missionary Hudson Taylor in China, that he sent a copy of the book to each member serving with the China Inland Mission in 1869.
She lived there for the last 23 years of her life. Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896 and was given a dignitary’s funeral. She was buried on the grounds of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Writing at the time mourned her death:
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati, Ohio is the former home of her father Lyman Beecher on the former campus of the Lane Seminary. Harriet lived here until her marriage. It is open to the public and operated as an historical and cultural site, focusing on Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Lane Seminary and the Underground Railroad. The site also presents African-American history. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati is located at 2950 Gilbert Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45206.
The Stowe Family in Florida. "In the 1870s and 1880s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) and her family wintered in Mandarin, south of Jacksonville on the St. Johns River. Stowe wrote Palmetto Leaves while living in Mandarin. The book was published in 1873 and describes Northeast Florida and its residents. In 1870, Stowe created an integrated school in Mandarin for children and adults. This was an early step toward providing equal education in the area and predated the national movement toward integration by more than a half century. The marker commemorating the Stowe family is located across the street from the former site of their cottage. It is on the property of the Community Club, at the site of a church where Stowe's husband once served as a minister." (Source: Florida Women's Heritage Trail, 2001)Harriet Beecher Stowe's great great nephew Keith Acusta currently reides in Homestead, FL he proudly speaks very highly of his great aunt.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine is where Uncle Tom's Cabin was written while Harriet and Calvin lived there while Calvin worked at Bowdoin College. Although local interest for its preservation as a museum has been strong in the past, it has long been an inn and German restaurant. It most recently changed ownership in 1999 for $865,000.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, Connecticut is the house where Harriet lived for the last 23 years of her life. In this . cottage style house, there are many of Harriet's original items and items from the time period. In the research library, which is open to the public, there are numerous letters and documents from the Beecher family. The house is opened to the public and offers house tours on the half hour.