Stowe, Harriet Beecher

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was the ultimate working mother, obliged to supplement her husband’s meager income to support their large family. She grew up in a large, progressive-thinking family full of ministers, authors, and educators who were well known in their time, although not as successful financially. She showed an early talent for writing and in her early twenties had a steadily paying profession, contributing articles to numerous publications.

Stowe sold anything and everything (sketches, poems, religious tracts, etc.) she could to support her growing family after marrying a poor clergyman. Though she bore seven children and struggled in genteel poverty, she found a way to write for profit and purpose.

Stowe’s overarching theme as a writer is that of one who consciously used storytelling as a catalyst for change. While living in Cincinnati the Stowes met escaped slaves and heard of their plights. This was the impetus for Harriet’s desire to use her talent to give slavery a human face, and expose its injustice. Though the literary merits of her work have long been debated, there is little dispute that Uncle Tom’s Cabin caused a major shift in public perception of slavery.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe 1855 portrait by Francis Holl

Harriet Beecher Stowe Quotes

“The way to be great lies through books, now, and not through battles.” (The Pearl of Orr’s Island, 1862)

“I did not write it. God wrote it. I merely did his dictation.” (Introduction to the 1879 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

“The truth is the kindest thing we can give folks in the end.” (The Pearl of Orr’s Island, 1862)

“Humankind above all is lazy.” (Household Papers and Stories, 1864)

“There is more done with pens than with swords.”

“Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life’s undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room, from which we go forth to more careful and guarded intercourse, leaving behind us much debris of cast-off and everyday clothing.” (Little Foxes, 1865)

“Everyone confesses in the abstract that exertion which brings out all the powers of body and mind is the best thing for us all; but practically most people do all they can to get rid of it, and as a general rule nobody does much more than circumstances drive them to do.” (“The Lady Who Does Her Own Work” in The Atlantic Monthly, 1864)

“For, so inconsistent is human nature, especially in the ideal, that not to undertake a thing at all seems better than to undertake and come short.” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852)

“The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us; to show their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away the good effects of all that can be attempted for them, by their best friends, under it.” (Author’s preface from Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

harriet beecher stowe“You ask with regard to the remuneration which I have received for my work here in America. Having been poor all my life and expecting to be poor the rest of it, the idea of making money by a book which I wrote just because I couldn’t help it, never occurred to me. It was therefore an agreeable surprise to receive ten thousand dollars as the first-fruits of three months’ sale. I presume as much more is now due.” (From a letter to a fellow abolitionist, Eliza Cabot Follen, 1853)

“Friendships are discovered rather than made.”

“Any mind that is capable of real sorrow is capable of good.” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852)

“The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today.”

“So subtle is the atmosphere of opinion that it will make itself felt without words.”

“Women are the real architects of society.”

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you till it seems you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” (Old Town Folks, 1869)

“Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be.”

“… I have been the mother of seven children, the most beautiful and most loved of whom lies buried near my Cincinnati residence. It was at his dying bed that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her.” (From a letter, 1853)

“It takes years and maturity to make the discovery that the power of faith is nobler than the power of doubt; and that there is a celestial wisdom in the ingenuous propensity to trust, which belongs to honest and noble natures.” (The Pearl of Orr’s Island, 1862)

“You ask with regard to the remuneration which I have received for my work here in America. Having been poor all my life and expecting to be poor the rest of it, the idea of making money by a book which I wrote just because I couldn’t help it, never occurred to me. It was therefore an agreeable surprise to receive ten thousand dollars as the first-fruits of three months’ sale. I presume as much more is now due.” (From a letter, 1853)

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” (Little Foxes, 1865)

“All places where women are excluded tend downward to barbarism; but the moment she is introduced, there come in with her courtesy, cleanliness, sobriety, and order.” (Household Papers and Stories, 1864)

“True love ennobles and dignifies the material labors of life; and homely services rendered for love’s sake have in them a poetry that is immortal.” (Household Papers and Stories, 1864)

“Whatever offices of life are performed by women of culture and refinement are thenceforth elevated; they cease to be mere servile toils, and become expressions of the ideas of superior beings.” (Household Papers and Stories, 1864)

“Since I began this note I have been called off at least a dozen times – once for the fish-man, to buy a codfish – once to see a man who had brought me some baskets of apples – once to see a book man…then to nurse the baby – then into the kitchen to make chowder for dinner and now I am at it again for nothing but deadly determination enables me to ever write – it is rowing against wind and tide.” (On interruptions, from a letter to her sister-in-law, 1850)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852“Perhaps it is impossible for a person who does no good to do no harm.”

“Our children are just coming to the age when everything depends on my efforts. They are delicate in health, and nervous and excitable and need a mother’s whole attention. Can I lawfully divide my attention by literary efforts? (From a letter to her husband, 1841)

“Most mothers are instinctive philosophers.” (The Minister’s Wooing, 1859)

“The greater the interest involved in a truth the more careful, self-distrustful, and patient should be the inquiry. I would not attack the faith of a heathen without being sure I had a better one to put in its place, because, such as it is, it is better than nothing.” (From a letter to WilliamLloyd Garrison, 1853)

“Everyone confesses that exertion which brings out all the powers of body and mind is the best thing for us; but most people do all they can to get rid of it, and as a general rule nobody does much more than circumstances drive them to do.”

“If I am to write, I must have a room to myself, which shall be my room … All last winter I felt the need of someplace where I could go and be quiet and satisfied.” (From a letter to her husband, 1841)

“One hundred thousand copies of Dred sold in four weeks! After that who cares what critics say? Its success in England has been complete, so far as sale is concerned. It is very bitterly attacked, both from a literary and a religious point of view. The Record is down upon it with a cartload of solemnity; the Athenaeum with waspish spite; the Edinburgh goes out of its way to say that the author knows nothing of the society she describes; but yet it goes everywhere, is read everywhere, and Mr. Low says that he puts the hundred and twenty-fifth thousand to press confidently. The fact that so many good judges like it better than Uncle Tom is success enough.” (From a letter to her husband, September 1856)

“I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother I was oppressed and broken-hearted, 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. It is no merit in the sorrowful that they weep, or to the oppressed and smothering that they gasp and struggle, not to me, that I must speak for the oppressed — who cannot speak for themselves.” (On Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a letter to Lord Denman, January 20, 1853)

Harriet Beecher Stowe

“So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why don’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women?”

“To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.”

“In the old times, women did not get their lives written, though I don’t doubt many of them were much better worth writing than the men’s.” (The Pearl of Orr’s Island, 1862)

“The power of fictitious writing, for good as well as for evil, is a thing which ought most seriously to be reflected upon.”

“That ignorant confidence in one’s self and one’s future, which comes in life’s first dawn, has a sort of mournful charm in experienced eyes, who know how much it all amounts to.” (The Pearl of Orr’s Island, 1862)

“To do common things perfectly is far better worth our endeavor than to do uncommon things respectably.” (Household Papers and Stories, 1864)

“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.”

 

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Comments

  1. Susan Bailey says:

    Ah yes, a room of one’s own. My favorite, Louisa May Alcott desired that too. I use the sitting area of our master bedroom as my “room” but I am finding that the right state of mind will trigger that same “room” (which I also dub a “sacred space.”) The most effective trigger right now is a cup of coffee – puts me right in the mood! :-)

  2. nava says:

    I agree; the right state of mind plus caffeine triggers the right mood for me, more than a particular space. In fact being in such a solitary profession, I tend to move around a lot with my laptop … various spaces at home, out in cafés, in airports, etc. I also find that a real-life deadline does wonders for my motivation …

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