Stowe, Harriet Beecher

Life Span
    Full name
    Harriet Beecher Stowe
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Lyman Beecher (father), Roxana Foote Beecher (mother), Henry Ward Beecher (brother), Isabella Beecher Hooker (half-sister), Calvin Ellis Stowe (husband), Frederick Stowe (son)
    Other Education
    Hartford Female Seminary
    Writer or Artist
    Relation to Slavery
    White non-slaveholder
    Other Affiliations
    Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)
    Women’s Rights

    Harriet Beecher Stowe (American National Biography)

    Always controversial, Stowe fell into disrepute in the latter half of the nineteenth century. When literature became professionalized and more formal, aesthetic standards of art prevailed, and Stowe's passion and finely honed rhetoric were judged "melodramatic" and "sentimental." Her strongly marked characters, particularly Uncle Tom, were seen as stereotypes, an impression increased by the minstrel darkies of the "Tom shows" that continued into the twentieth century. Her reputation rose again in the wake of the the women's movement of the 1970s. Uncle Tom's Cabin continues to be read around the world for its principled defense of the lowly and oppressed.
    Joan D. Hedrick, "Stowe, Harriet Beecher," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (American National Biography)

    The success of Uncle Tom's Cabin made Stowe an international celebrity and a focus of antislavery sentiment. In 1853 she published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, an antislavery polemic written to answer critics who complained that her novel had exaggerated the brutalities of slavery. At the invitation of two Scottish antislavery societies she undertook a tour of the British Isles. As she recounted in Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854), she was met by large crowds, feted at antislavery soirees, showered with money for the cause, and presented with a petition from more than half a million British women urging their American sisters to end slavery. She used money given her to free slaves, distribute antislavery literature, and support antislavery lectures, but her most powerful antislavery weapon remained her pen. In 1854, when Congress was debating the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Stowe published in the Independent "An Appeal to Women of the Free States of America, on the Present Crisis on Our Country" and circulated petitions to defeat the bill. When it passed, opening the possibility of slavery in the new territories, Stowe wrote her second antislavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856). In contrast to the Christian pacifism of Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin, her hero Dred is presented as the son of Denmark Vesey, the historical figure hanged in South Carolina for fomenting rebellion among the slaves.
    Joan D. Hedrick, "Stowe, Harriet Beecher," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Harriet Beecher Stowe (Roark, 2002)

    Responses to Uncle Tom's Cabin depended on geography. In the North, common people and literary giants alike shed tears and sang its praises. The poet John Greenleaf Whitier sent "ten thousand thanks for thy immortal book," and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow judged it "one of the greatest triumphs recorded in literary history." What Northerners accepted as truth, Southerners denounced as slander. Virginian George F. Holmes proclaimed Stowe a member of the "Woman's Rights" and "Higher Law" schools and dismissed the novel as a work of "intense fanaticism," Unfortunately, he said, this "maze of interpretation" had filled those who knew nothing about slavery "with hatred for that institution and those who uphold it."...As Legree's [a slave-owning character] northern origins suggest, the novel did not indict just the South. Stowe rebuked the entire nation for tolerating slavery. Although it is impossible to measure precisely the impact of a novel on public opinion, Uncle Tom's Cabin clearly helped to crystallize northern sentiment against slavery and to confirm white Southerner's suspicion that they no longer had any sympathy in the free states...  A decade after its publication, when Stowe visited Abraham Lincoln at the White House, he reportedly said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."
    James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 460-462.

    Uncle Tom's Cabin (King, 1986)

    The [Fugitive Slave Law] also inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin, a dramatic novel showing the plight of plantation slaves.
    David C. King, et al., United States History: Presidential Edition (Menlo Park: CA: Addison–Wesley Publishing Company, 1986), 266.

    Harriet Beecher Stowe (New York Times)


    If Mrs. STOWE has not outlived her fame, she has long survived her vogue. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is still no doubt sold and read, and it may be sold and read for some generations to come. It may be even read with interest, an interest due to its merits as work of art, to its delineation of the types of human character evolved or developed under a social state that has irrevocably passed away. Shelby and St. Clair and Legree remain the types of slaveholders in the minds of Northerners and Europeans and are becoming such types to the readers of the south itself, as the institutions of slavery recedes more and more from actual experience and memory. Certainly they are likely to supplant any of the types created by the old-fashioned writers of “romances of the sunny Southland,” who were, in sooth, dreadfully incompetent to fix a type that would stand or to paint a picture that was memorable. Uncle Tom himself is rather a “property” hero, and the best that can be said for Eva is that she is fairly comparable with DICKENS’S efforts in the pathetic line, on which she was closely modeled.   The strictly incidental people were better, George and Eliza and the Quaker, whose name we have forgotten, and the evangelical spinster from New-England. The great majority of readers who read for entertainment will in the future be apt to derive from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” their impressions of slavery in the United States.

    This is praise of the famous novel from a purely literary point of view, on its merits as a novel. But of course it was not its literary merits that won for it so astonishing and perhaps unexampled a success. It would be safe to say that far more than two millions of copies of it have been sold in English, and it was translated into every language of Europe and in several of them was successful beyond the contemporary successes of any native author. This wonderful popularity it owed, not to its merits as a work of art, nor to its value as a “human document,” but to its efficiency and timeliness as a political pamphlet. The timeliness, indeed, was a great part of the efficiency. It was published two years after the middle of the century at the beginning of which slavery was not an anachronism at all and at the end of which there will not be a human being legally held in bondage in any country that calls itself civilized, and there will be very few such persons even in barbarous countries. Already our politics had begun to turn upon that issue, which ten years before had been successfully subordinated to less important and dangerous questions, and ten years afterward was to array the two halves of the country against each other in war. The efforts of WEBSTER and men like him effort to keep it out of politics had become as visibly vain as are now the efforts to subordinate the currency issue to the tariff. Eighteen hundred and fifty-two was the year alike of the “Seventh of March Speech,” which was the last of WEBSTER’S efforts, and of the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The novelist was a better politician than the statesman, for four years afterward the Presidential campaign was fought out upon the issue of the restriction of slavery. There was really no other public topic in the United States. A book purporting to be detailed picture of slave life in the South, under the most favorable and the least favorable conditions, appealed to a universal craving. Even had the picture been less artistically done than it was, had it been only tolerably done, it was assured beforehand of a great success.

    With “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” the literary career of its author began and ended, though the composition of it was only an episode in a hard-working literary life. Perhaps some of her other books were as well written as her one book, but they were not written under the same inspiring assurance of a wide popular sympathy, and it is and will remain entirely permissible not to have read them. The author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” however, is sure of a long remembrance.
    “Harriet Beecher Stowe,” New York Times, July 2, 1896, p. 4.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Stowe, Harriet Beecher. A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1853.
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    Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1852.
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    Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963. view record
    Caskey, Marie. Chariot of Fire: Religion and the Beecher Family. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978. view record
    Crozier, Alice. The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. view record
    Gara, Larry. "Friends and the Underground Railroad." Quaker History 51, no. 1 (1962): 3-19. view record
    Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. view record
    Moers, Ellen. Harriet Beecher Stowe and American Literature. Hartford, CT: Stowe-Day Foundation, 1978. view record
    Rugoff, Milton Allan. The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. view record
    Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Co., 1856. view record
    Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1854. view record
    Stowe, Harriet Beecher. The Minister's Wooing. New York: Derby and Jackson, 1859. view record
    Sundquist, Eric J. New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. view record
    Vollaro, Daniel R. “Lincoln, Stowe, and the “Little Woman/Great War” Story: The Making, and Breaking, of a Great American Anecdote.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 30, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 18-34. view record
    White, Barbara Anne. The Beecher Sisters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. view record
    Wilson, Robert Forrest. Crusader in Crinoline: The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1941. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Stowe, Harriet Beecher," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,