Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu


Harriet B. Stowe. The May Flower (1855), frontispiece.


The seventh child of the famous Beecher clan, Harriet Beecher Stowe grew up in the intellectually and religiously intense household of her father, the Rev. Lyman Beecher, and her siblings, including her older sister Catharine Beecher. Each of her seven brothers joined the ministry. It would be through her writing that Harriet Beecher Stowe participated in the moral conversations of the day.

After finishing her education at her sister's school in Hartford, Connecticut, Harriet Beecher Stowe stayed at the female seminary to teach. In 1832, the Beechers moved to Cincinnati. There Catharine opened another school in which Harriet taught, and both sisters joined the city's intelligentsia by attending meetings of the Semi-Colon Club and contributing their writing to gift books and local periodicals. In 1836 Harriet Beecher met and married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor of Biblical literature inclined toward periods of insanity and alcoholism. Within seven years Harriet Beecher Stowe had birthed five children. Viewing her role as a wife and mother as a higher calling, she struggled to keep her idealism and her marriage intact. To support her growing family, she earned money by publishing her short stories and running a small school in her home.

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, a law enabling the capture and re-enslavement of escaped slaves, provoked cries of protest from abolitionists. Condemning slavery as a moral and spiritual wrong, Harriet Beecher Stowe's father and brothers preached against the act from their pulpits, and Harriet endeavored to write a parable which, like those in the Bible, would inspire its readers to turn from sin. In 1851 to 1852 she published Uncle Tom's Cabin in installments in the abolitionist newspaper the National Era; later in 1852 the story appeared as a complete volume. An instant bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin told of the faithful slave Tom whose cruel master beats him to death and of George and Eliza Harris who flee their bondage in Kentucky, hoping to reach Canada before the slave-catchers find them.

Harriet Beecher Stowe became an immediate celebrity in the wake of Uncle Tom's publication, inspiring the awe of abolitionists and the ire of those who defended the South's "peculiar institution." Translated into dozens of languages and adapted for performance on the stage, her novel had an immeasurable effect on the consciences of her audience and served as a focal point for the intensifying debate over slavery. Upon meeting the book's author, President Lincoln commented, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

In the following years she continued to write, publishing a rejoinder to claims that Uncle Tom exaggerated the plight of slaves, a second antislavery novel featuring a more rebellious hero than "Tom," religious essays and poems, and biographies. She died in Hartford in 1896.

Other portraits appears in:

The Photographic Art-Journal (August, 1853), photograph pasted to preliminary leaf, as issued.

Harriet B. Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life among the Lowly ( Cleveland, 1853), frontispiece.

Julia Griffiths, ed., Autographs for Freedom (Auburn, N.Y., 1854), plate following p. 274.

Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck, eds., Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855), vol. 2, p. 605.

The Ladies’ Repository (March, 1858), plate preceding p. 179.



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