Harriet Beecher Stowe

Early Life: Harriet Beecher Stowe was a 19th century American author and abolitionist. She is known for writing the famous novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in 1852, in which she described the plight of African slaves in United States. Her novel won her acclaim in North and scorn in the pro slavery south. Harriet was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her father was a religious leader. Her mother died of tuberculosis when Harriet was only five years old.

She was sixth of 11 children. All seven of her brothers became ministers. Harriet received her early education at a seminary where her elder sister, Catherine worked. At the age of 21 she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio with her father who had become president of a seminary there. It was here that she got interested in literary pursuits. She met Calvin Stowe, a seminary teacher and a widower whose late wife had briefly befriended Harriet. Together the couple had seven children. Calvin was a staunch abolitionist and together with Harriet, they supported ‘Underground Railroad’ and provided refuge to many fugitive slaves.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Harriet had little knowledge of slavery while living in Connecticut but when she shifted to Ohio with her family, she was exposed to the bitter reality. She was shocked to see how slaves were treated in southern states. She wanted to help people in North understand the true plight of slaves. In 1851 she started writing a story which was published in weekly installments in a newspaper. She named it ‘Life among the Lowly’. She published the story in book form in 1852 and called it ‘Uncle Tom’s cabin’.

Her portrayal of slavery in the novel captured the imagination of the entire nation. While it aroused the anti-slavery sentiments in north, it also invited scorn in south where people opposed her depiction of slavery. The book was a bestseller in United States and Britain and was translated in over 60 languages. She wrote more than 30 books on topics like childrearing, religious studies, homemaking, children’s text books and biographies.

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Civil War: During the civil war, Harriet supported the Union’s cause. She also met President Lincoln in Washington D.C with her family. It is reported that President Lincoln greeted her by saying ‘So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war’.

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Later Life: After the war, Harriet campaigned for the rights of married women. She also worked as the editor of ‘Hearth and Home’ magazine. In 1886 her husband died, after which her own health deteriorated. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease that adversely affected her memory. It is also reported that during her last years she started writing ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ all over again, under the impression that she was writing the original script.

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Death: Harriet died in Hartford, Connecticut on July 1, 1896. She is remembered as an influential writer who brought the issue of slavery to the fore and awakened nation’s conscience and rallied widespread support for abolitionist campaign.

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