Harriet Beecher Stowe was a writer and anti-slavery campaigner. She is best known for her book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘ This was a vivid depiction of slavery and its human cost. It was influential in shaping public opinion about slavery in the period leading upto the American civil war.
She was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut to a strongly religious family. She was educated at a girls school and received a wide ranging education. When she was 21 she moved to Ohio where she became involved in various literary circles and became concerned with social issues of the day..
Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe on January 6 1836. Stowe was committed to abolishing slavery and with Harriet they took part in the Underground Railroad which temporarily housed fugitive slaves.
Though experiences such as this, Harriet gained a close hand knowledge of the institution of slavery. In 1833, she visited a slavery auction in Kentucky, an experience that profoundly moved her. She felt it her Christian duty to write about the injustice of slavery.
In 1851, she published her first installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the newspaper the National Era. By 1952, its popularity had led to its publication in book form. The book became a best-seller, selling over 300,000 copies in the first year alone.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a realistic account of the pain and injustice of slavery. It helped galvanise opinion in the country. It popularised the anti-slavery movement in the north. In the south, it predictably enraged opinion and led to opposition to the book.
After the outbreak of civil war, Harriet was invited for a meeting with Abraham Lincoln in November 25, 1862 in the White House. It was later remarked that Harriet was ‘the little woman who started the big war’. Thought the causes of the American civil war were wide ranging, her book definitely made many Americans more receptive to the idea of seeking to end slavery.
Although best remembered for the hugely influential Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet also wrote a total of 20 novels and wrote on a variety of social and political issues.
She died on July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut aged 85. Her house the Harriet Beecher Stowe House was next door to fellow author Mark Twain.
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