Her words changed the world.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Life


Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) published more than 30 books, but it was her best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin which catapulted her to international celebrity and secured her place in history.

But Uncle Tom's Cabin was not Stowe's only work. Her broad range of interests resulted in such varied publications as children's text books, advice books on homemaking and childrearing, biographies and religious studies. The informal, conversational style of her many novels permitted her to reach audiences that more scholarly or argumentative works would not, and encouraged everyday people to address such controversial topics as slavery, religious reform, and gender roles.

Harriet Beecher Stowe believed her actions could make a positive difference. Her words changed the world.

Childhood and education

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, CT to the Rev. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) and Roxanna Foote Beecher (1775- 1816); the sixth of 11 children.

The Beechers expected their children to shape their world:

  • All seven sons became ministers, then the most effective way to influence society
  • Oldest daughter Catharine pioneered education for women
  • Youngest daughter Isabella was a founder of the National Women's Suffrage Association
  • Harriet believed her purpose in life was to write. Her most famous work exposed the truth about the greatest social injustice of her day - human slavery

Family Life
Roxanna Beecher died when Stowe was only five years old. Her later pursuit of painting and drawing honored her mother's talents in those areas. Oldest sister Catharine became an important maternal influence. Stowe wrote at an early age: at seven, she won a school essay contest earning praise from her father.

Lyman's second wife, Harriet Porter Beecher (1800-1835), was a beautiful woman slightly overwhelmed by the 8 boisterous children she inherited. Her own children, Isabella, Thomas and James, added to the noisy household.

In Litchfield and on frequent visits to her grandmother in Guilford, CT, Stowe and her sisters and brothers played, read, hiked, and joined their father in games and exercises. Many of these childhood events were incorporated into Pogunuc People, (1878) Stowe's last novel.

Stowe learned to make a persuasive argument at the family table. The Beechers took in boarders from Tapping Reeve's law school. Lyman Beecher taught religion at Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy and honed the debating talents of both his students and his children.

Stowe began her formal education at Sarah Pierce's academy, one of the earliest to encourage girls to study academic subjects and not simply ornamental arts.

In 1824, Stowe became first a student and then a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, founded by sister Catharine. There, Stowe furthered her writing talents, spending many hours composing essays.

For more information on the Beecher family, see the Beecher section of this site and visit the Newman Baruch library at CUNY.

Stowe the Writer

Stowe's passion for writing allowed her to

  • Publicly express her thoughts and beliefs in a time when a woman could not speak publicly, much less vote or hold office
  • Contribute financially to the Stowe family household income
"If you see my name coming out everywhere - you may be sure of one thing, that I do it for the pay"

Stowe's publishing career began before her marriage, with:

  • Primary Geography for Children (1833) Her sympathetic approach to Catholicism, unusual for its time, won her the praise of the local bishop.
  • New England Sketches (1835), a short story collection

Later works include:

  • The Mayflower: Sketches of Scenes and Characters among the Descendants of the Pilgrims.(1843)
  • "The Coral Ring" (1843) a short story which promoted temperance, and an anti-slavery tract.
  • Numerous articles, essays and short stories regularly published in newspapers and journals

In 1851, The National Era's publisher Gamaliel Bailey contracted with Stowe for a story that would "paint a word picture of slavery" and that would run in installments. Stowe expected Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life Among the Lowly to be three or four installments. She wrote more than 40.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, brought not only financial security, it enabled Stowe to write full time. She began publishing multiple works per year including the Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which documented the case histories on which she had based her novel, and Dred: A Tale from the Swamp, another and more forceful anti-slavery novel.

Other notable works include The Minister's Wooing, which helped American Protestants move towards a more forgiving form of Christianity while simultaneously helping Stowe resolve the death of her oldest son, Henry Ellis Stowe; The American Woman's Home, a practical guide to homemaking, co-authored with sister Catharine Beecher; and Lady Byron Vindicated, which strove to defend Stowe's friend Lady Byron and immersed Stowe herself in scandal.

In all, Harriet Beecher Stowe's writing career spanned 51 years, during which time she published 30 books and countless short stories, poems, articles, and hymns.

A comprehensive bibliography for Harriet Beecher Stowe can be found at the University of Pennsylvania web site.

Marriage and children

In 1832, 21 year old Harriet Beecher moved with her family to Cincinnati, OH, where her father Lyman became President of Lane Theological Seminary. There she met and married Calvin Stowe, a theology professor she described as "rich in Greek & Hebrew, Latin & Arabic, & alas! rich in nothing else..."

Six of Stowe's seven children were born in Cincinnati, and in the summer of 1849, Stowe experienced for the first time the sorrow many 19th-century parents knew when her 18-month old son, Samuel Charles Stowe, died of cholera. Stowe later credited that crushing pain as one of the inspirations for Uncle Tom's Cabin because it helped her understand the pain enslaved mothers felt when their children were taken from them to be sold.

In 1850 Professor Stowe joined the faculty of his alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME. The Stowe family moved to Maine and lived in Brunswick until 1853.

The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin

The first installment of Uncle Tom's Cabin appeared on June 5, 1851 in the anti-slavery newspaper, The National Era. Stowe enlisted friends and family to send her information and she scoured freedom narratives and anti-slavery newspapers for first hand accounts as she composed her story. In 1852 the serial was published as a two volume book. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a best seller in the United States, Britian, Europe, Asia, and translated into over 60 languages...

"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, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity - because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath."

Later years

Stowe was less than half way through her life when she published Uncle Tom's Cabin, and she continued to write and work to improve society for most of her days. From Brunswick, the Stowes moved to Andover, MA, where Calvin was a professor of theology at Andover Theological Seminary from 1853 to 1864.

After his retirement, the family relocated to Hartford, CT. There Harriet Beecher Stowe built her dream house, Oakholm, in Nook Farm, a neighborhood full of friends and relatives. The high maintenance cost and the encroachment of factories caused her to sell her mansion in 1870. In 1873, she settled into a brick Victorian Gothic cottage-style house on Forest Street. She remained there for 23 years.

While residing in Hartford, Stowe undertook two speaking tours, one along the east coast, the second taking her to the western states. Promoting progressive ideals, she helped reinvigorate the art museum at the Wadsworth Atheneum and helped establish the Hartford Art School, which eventually became part of the University of Hartford. Stowe wrote some of her best known works, after Uncle Tom's Cabin, while living in Hartford: The American Woman's Home (1869), Lady Byron Vindicated (1871) and Pogunuc People (1878)

The Winter Home in Mandarin Florida

After the Civil War, the Stowes purchased a house and property in Mandarin, FL, on the St. John's River, and began to travel south each winter.

There were multiple reasons for their decision. The Beechers and the Stowes knew that racial equality required more than legislation; it also required education. Stowe's brother Charles Beecher (1815-1900) opened a Florida school to teach emancipated people, and he urged Calvin and Harriet Stowe to join him.

Newly expanded railroads also made shipping citrus fruits north a potentially lucrative business, and Stowe purchased an orange grove which she hoped her son Frederick would manage. The relatively mild winters of northern Florida were a welcome respite from Hartford winters and the high costs of winter fuel.

Harriet Beecher Stowe loved Florida, comparing its soft climate to Italy, and she published Palmetto Leaves, describing the beauties and advantages of the state.

Stowe and her family wintered in Mandarin for over 15 years before Calvin's health prohibited long travel.

Harriet Beecher Stowe resource list.