Her work ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ forced readers to confront the brutal reality of slavery and strengthened the abolitionist movement.
Harriet Beecher Stowe gained fame for her anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was originally serialized in 1851 in the newspaper The National Era. The novel tells the story of Uncle Tom, a middle-aged slave owned by a Kentucky farmer, who is sold by his owner when he encounters financial problems and eventually ends up in the hands of a cruel slave owner who subjects him to severe beatings.
Beecher Stowe was one of 13 children and, unlike many girls at the time, received a good education. Born Harriet Beecher, she was raised in Connecticut before travelling with her family to Ohio. It was in Cincinnati that she met Calvin Stowe and the pair married in 1832. Beecher Stowe came into contact with many African Americans whose experiences inspired her later writing. Both Harriet and her husband supported abolition and they supported the Underground Railroad by offering shelter.
The family had moved to Maine by the time the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850. The law meant that law enforcement officials were legally required to arrest people who were suspected of being fugitive slaves based only on the evidence from somebody who claimed to ‘own’ the suspected slave. Suspects were not allowed to have a trial by jury or to present testimony to support their case. Many African Americans were kidnapped and conscripted into slavery. Slavery could no longer be seen as an issue that was only relevant in the southern states. Since northern states were obliged to enforce slavery, they were forced to confront it and question their own complicity.
Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law. The book served to raise awareness of the realities of slavery and it quickly captured the attention of the American public. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Beecher Stowe travelled to the White House where she met President Lincoln who reportedly said to her: ‘so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.’
In her later life, Beecher Stowe continued to advocate for political and social causes and continued to write. The way in which Uncle Tom’s Cabin engaged so many people in the abolitionist movement strengthened the position of female abolitionists and amplified the voices of female activists. Beecher Stowe died in 1896 at the age of 85 years.
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."
“I did not write it. God wrote it. I merely did his dictation.”
“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”