Harriet Beecher Stowe


June 14, 1811 - July 1, 1896

Harriet Beecher was a schoolteacher and writer in Hartford, Conn., before moving in 1832 to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she lived for 18 years. Just across the Ohio River were slaves and slaveholders, and she had occasional contact with free blacks and runaway slaves. Beecher married clergyman and seminary professor Calvin Ellis Stowe while living in Ohio. In 1850 the couple and their seven children moved to Brunswick, Maine, where Calvin taught at bowdoin College.

A staunch abolitionist and devout Christian, Stowe felt it was her moral duty to help runaway slaves. In 1850 when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring fugitive slaves to be returned to their masters, Stowe was outraged and frustrated. She wrote to her sister-in-law voicing her concerns and received the poignant reply, "Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is." Stowe enthusiastically embraced the project until a lack of knowledge about slave life stopped her.

She began in earnest again after seeing a "vision" of a saintly black man being beaten to death by two slaves under orders from their evil masters. Thus, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life Among the Lowly was born and her vision became the climax of her antislavery novel. The religious woman claimed that she didn't write the book, "God wrote it." She said of the heartbreaking scenes she described, "I suffer exquisitely in writing these things." The book was immensely popular, reaching both sympathetic and hostile audiences and heightening the slavery debate. Uncle Tom's Cabin contributed to society's conscience, inflamed passions, and hastened the coming of the Civil War. Stowe later defended her work in A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Stowe wrote more novels, including another antislavery novel entitled Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, and essays and articles that studied social life. Stowe died at the age of 85 in Hartford, Conn.

Fascinating Fact: Many Southerners viewed Uncle Tom's Cabin as an attack on the Southern way of life, and they angrily denounced the book. Stowe received hate mail -- one such piece included the severed ear of a black person.