Harriet Beecher Stowe
About the Author
American writer and philanthropist, best-known for the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-52). Stowe wrote the work in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it illegal to assist an escaped slave. In the story 'Uncle Tom' of the title is bought and sold three times and finally beaten to death by his last owner. The book was quickly translated into 37 languages and it sold in five years over half a million copies in the United States. Uncle Tom's Cabin was also among the most popular plays of the 19th century.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, and brought up with puritanical strictness. She had one sister and six brothers. Her father, Lyman Beecher, was a controversial Calvinist preacher. Her mother, Roxana Foote, died at 41 - Stowe was four at that time. Her aunt, Harriet Foote, influenced deeply Stowe's thinking, especially with her strong belief in culture. Samuel Foote, her uncle, encouraged her to read works of Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott. When Stowe was eleven years old, she entered the seminary at Hartford, Connecticut, kept by her elder sister Catherine. The school had advanced curriculum and she learned languages, natural and mechanical science, composition, ethics, logic, mathematics, subjects that were generally taught to male students. Four years later she was employed as an assistant teacher. Her father married again - he became the president of lane Theological Seminary.
Catherine and Harriet founded a new seminary, the Western Female Institute. With her sister Stowe wrote a children's geography book. In 1834 Stowe began her literary career when she won a prize contest of the Western Monthly Magazine, and soon Stowe was a regular contributor of stories and essays. Her first book, The Mayflower, appeared in 1843.
In 1836 Stowe married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor at her father's theological seminary. He was a widower; his late wife had been Stowe's friend. The early years of their marriage were marked by poverty. Over the next 14 years Stowe had 7 children. In 1850 Calvin Stowe was offered a professorship at Bowdoin, and they moved to Brunswick, Maine. In Cincinnati Stowe had come in contact with fugitive slaves. She learned about life in the South from her own visits there and saw how cruel slavery was. In addition the Fugitive Slave Law, passed by Congress in 1850, arose much protest - giving shelter or assistance to an escaped slave became a crime. And finally a personal tragedy, the death of her infant Samuel from cholera, led Stowe to compose her famous novel. It was first published in the anti-slavery newspaper The National Era, from June 1851 to April 1852, and later in book form. The story was to some extent based on true events and the life of Josiah Henson. 'I could not control the story, the Lord himself wrote it,' Stowe once said. 'I was but an instument in His hands and to Him should be given all the praise.' When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe he joked, 'So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.' The novel was smuggled into Russia in Yiddish to evade the czarist censor. It also remained enormously popular after the Revolution.
Stowe's popularity opened her doors to the national literary magazines.
She started to publish her writings in The Atlantic Monthly and later
in Independent and in Christian Union. For some time she was the
most celebrated woman writer in The Atlantic Monthly and in the New
England literary clubs. In 1853, 1856, and 1859 Stowe made journeys to
Europe and became friends with George Eliot, Elisabeth Barrett Browning
Attacks on the veracity of her portrayal of the South led Stowe to publish The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), in which she presented her source material. A second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), told the story of a dramatic attempt at slave rebellion. Stowe's later works did not gain the same popularity as Uncle Tom's Cabin. She published novels, studies of social life, essays, and a small volume of religious poems. The Stowes lived in Hartford in summer and spent their winters in Florida, where they had a luxurious home. The Pearl of Orr's Island (1862), Old-Town Folks (1869), and Poganuc People (1878) were partly based on her husband's childhood reminiscenes and are among the first examples of local color writing in New England. Poganuc People was Stowe's last novel. Her mental faculties failed in 1888, two years after the death of her husband. She died on July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut.
Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.