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. Stowe’s mother died when she was four. In her literary works Stowe found inspiration not in Calvinism but in combination of romanticism and religiously motivated commitment to justice. When she was eleven years old, she entered the seminary at Hartford, Connecticut, kept by her elder sister. Four years later she was employed as 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. 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 E. Stowe, a professor at her father’s theological seminary. 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. These experiences led Stowe to compose her famous novel, which was first published in the anti-slavery newspaper The National Era 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 instrument 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.
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. The Stowe’s lived in Hartford in summer and spent their winters in Florida, where they had a luxurious home. Her mental faculties failed in 1888, two years after the death of her husband. She died on July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut.
“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.”
“The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today.”
“I am speaking now of the highest duty we owe our friends, the noblest, the most sacred – that of keeping their own nobleness, goodness, pure and incorrupt.”
“I would not attack the faith of a heathen without being sure I had a better one to put in its place.”
“Friendships are discovered rather than made.”
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
“I did not write it. God wrote it. I merely did His dictation.” (In reference to Uncle Tom’s Cabin)