Born in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, Harriet Beecher grew up surrounded by intellect. By the time she was twelve, she had been surrounded with ministers, judges, and other professional men who were considered to be high achievers. But while attending her sister’s school, The Litchfield Female Academy, she was exposed to even more academic endeavors and found herself excelling when it came to writing compositions and essays. The emphasis on women’s education outside of homemaking was unusual for the time but allowed Beecher many opportunities to hone her skills.
Taking what she had learned to heart and moving with her father to Cincinnati, Beecher and her sister opened up the Western Female Institute. It was here that her first book, “Geography for Children,” was published. It was around this time that she became an abolitionist as she came into contact with slaves who were trying to escape and heard their horror stories. In 1836, she married Professor Calvin E. Stowe, also an abolitionist and continued her work fighting against slavery.
One of the things that pushed Stowe to take action was the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law. This made it illegal for anyone to help a slave attempting to escape. Slave owners were now about to travel about in the north, where many slaves ran away looking for freedom, in order to reclaim them. As she continued to watch the result of these slaves trying to find freedom and the heartless treatment they endured, she contacted “The National Era”, a magazine that was committed to anti-slavery, and came up with a plan to write a story that would be presented in different installments.
The result was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She claimed to have a dream about a dying slave that pushed her to write the story; a story that was set to change the way that many people saw slavery in the United States. Because of her own experiences and stories that she had heard from slaves, her prose was accurate and allowed the story to take on a real personal meaning to both the writer and her readers. She even worked with Frederick Douglass to make sure that her story was accurate.
When the story was released, people couldn’t get enough and wanted more released as soon as possible. The story follows the life of Uncle Tom as he is handed over to three different owners. The book captured the attention of the people of the United States, and from that point on, there was no going back. Everyone had a strong opinion either for or against the book.
Supporters believed that the book brought to light the suffering that slaves experienced at the hands of their owners. They felt it made the situation more personal and ensured that people took a second look at where they stood on the issue of slavery. It become a bestseller and made others take her seriously when she started to go out and speak about her anti-slavery views.
Opponents of the book suggested that Stowe over dramatized the content in order to get more readers and said that there were flaws in accuracy throughout. Pro-slavery groups, especially those in the South set, out to discredit her and dismiss her writing. But Stowe decided to fight back and produced “The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a work which detailed the sources she used to create “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
It has been reported that when Stowe met President Lincoln, he said she was the woman who started a great war. Without any weapons to speak of, Stowe used her writing skills to set the United States ablaze when it came to the topic of slavery. She made sure that people stood up and paid attention to what was going on around them. She put a face and a name to all of the conversations going on about owning people like property.
Following the Civil War, Stowe continued to write and became an important figure in American society. She purchased property in Florida while remaining a resident of Connecticut. She became the editor of “Home and Hearth” magazine and even stood up for the rights of married women. Because of her writings, she was invited out on several speaking tours. In 1889, her biography, “The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe,” written by her son Charles, was published. She died in 1896. All in all, she published over twenty books and multiple articles, poems and stories.