Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896), American author and abolitionist, is best known for the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  She grew up in a large, progressive-thinking family full of ministers, authors, and educators who were well known in their time.

Among her siblings were the prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher, and educator Catharine Beecher. Harriet showed an early talent for writing and in her early twenties had a steadily paying profession, contributing articles to numerous publications.

Her husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, whom she married in 1836, was a firm supporter of her talents. But was no help in the household, and not much of a provider. Struggling with divided loyalties, her assertion  to her husband in this letter, “If I am to write, I must have a room to myself” neatly presages Virginia Woolf’s avowal that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 


A working mother and writer desires to do more

Stowe sold anything and everything (sketches, poems, religious tracts, etc.) she could to support her growing family after marrying a poor clergyman. Stowe was the ultimate working mother, obliged to supplement her husband’s meager income to support their large family. Though she bore seven children and struggled in genteel poverty, she found a way to write for profit and purpose. 

The book Stowe longed to write “to make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is” was put off  from one year to the next: “As long as the baby sleeps with me nights I can’t do much at anything, but I will do it at last.” At age 39, still in the midst of tending to her large family, Stowe found a way to disseminate the story she longed to tell, publishing monthly installments in an abolitionist newsletter. With each issue, public interest built.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin

However much Stowe longed for money and privacy, it could be argued that being a mother played a pivotal role in the inception of her magnum opus, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When she lost her beloved son Samuel Charles to cholera at age 18 months, the grief was crushing. Later she claimed that this loss helped her empathize with slave mothers who whose children were torn from them to be auctioned off.

 She wrote in an 1853 letter, “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 … 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.”

Meeting escaped slaves while living in Cincinnati and hearing about their plights was another impetus for Harriet’s desire to use her talent to give slavery a human face, and expose its injustice.


Financial rewards

Having struggled financially in all her married life, Stowe was amazed by the income she received from the sale of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, telling a friend and fellow abolitionist in an 1853 letter: “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. I was therefore an agreeable surprise to receive ten thousand dollars as the first-fruits of three month’s sale. I presume as much more is now due.”


More novels and legacy

Stowe continued to write novels (Dred, The Minister’s Wooing, Oldtown Folks, and The Pearl of Orr’s Island) as well as essays and articles.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. It was read by millions, and became the bestselling book of the 1900s, after the Bible. Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896 in Hartford, CT, at age 85.


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2 Responses to “Harriet Beecher Stowe”

  1. 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 …

  2. 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! 🙂

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