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Uncle Tom's Cabin in Print: The Collection of Mary C. Schlosser

Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Woman, The Writer, The Legend
A Chronology (1811-1896)

by Joyce Bickerstaff

“God has written it in his book that you must be a literary woman, and who are we that we should contend against God?…make all your calculations to spend the rest of your life with your pen …Write yourself fully and always Harriet Beecher Stowe, which is a name euphonious, flowing, and full of meaning.” —Calvin Ellis Stowe


I THE WOMAN
“To think and feel is to speak strong, bold, often”

1811. June 14. Harriet Elizabeth Beecher, seventh child of prominent and controversial Calvinist theologian Lyman Beecher, D.D. (1775-1863) and Roxana Ward Foote (ca.1780-1816), is born in Litchfield, Connecticut. Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote, “a refined and cultivated lady,” were married in 1799. Of English stock, the Beechers’ New England roots date to 1638.

1816. Harriet is five years old when mother Roxana Beecher dies. Lyman Beecher would marry twice more and bring the total Beecher clan to eleven, including seven sons—William, Edward, George, Henry,1 Charles, Thomas, and James—and four daughters- -Catherine, Mary, Harriet, and Isabella. From childhood, Henry and big sister Harriet were inseparable.

1821. Harriet attends Litchfield Academy, a place where the natural landscape made an indelible impression on her--picturesque scenery and famous sunsets. She discovers Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Her father disapproved of novels as “trash,” but Scott’s novels were allowed, being regarded as “real genius and real culture.”

1824-32. Harriet moves to Hartford, where she attends and later teaches school at the Hartford Female Seminary run by her elder sister, Catherine E. Beecher, an intensely religious educator.

1826-1832. Dr. Beecher (Yale College 1798) removes family to Boston, where he becomes minister of the Hanover Street Church and works to stem the “rising tide of Unitarianism.” The Deity was a constant presence in Harriet’s life: seven brothers, a husband, and a son all entered the ministry.

1832. Dr. Beecher accepts the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Beecher family, including twenty-one-year-old “Hattie,” migrates to Ohio and builds a homestead at Walnut Hills. Harriet teaches in sister Catherine’s new school.

1834-1850. Pro-slavery riots rock Cincinnati and the Beecher/Stowe families become occupied with anti-slavery controversies at Lane. The Underground Railroad runs through Cincinnati from neighboring Kentucky, a slave state, and Harriet encounters the realities of slavery first-hand, and from stories told by Negro women servants. Lane trustees forbid public discussions of slavery and orders the student Anti-Slavery Society to disband. With but two exceptions, the senior class led by Theodore Weld, withdraws from the Seminary. Lyman Beecher, straddles the slavery issue, nevertheless challenges the trustees and is tried for heresy. He survives two trials and remains as president until 1850. Harriet’s knowledge about slavery is deepened by her reading of the books: American Slavery As It Is by Theodore Weld (1839) and the slave narrative, The Life of Josiah Henson (1849), from which Stowe, attributes the character “Uncle Tom.”

1836. January 6. Harriet marries Calvin Ellis Stowe (1802-1886) after the death of Eliza Tyler, Stowe’s first wife and Harriet’s best friend in Cincinnati. Born in Natick, Massachusetts, and educated at Bradford Academy and Bowdoin College, Stowe was a friend and colleague of Harriet’s father and taught Biblical literature at Lane. A widower “nine years older, stoutish, and a little bald,” the professor was considered “upright, moral, religious, kindly, learned, and literary. At the time of her marriage, “Hattie was getting on,” had no beaus, and was too “intellectual.” Calvin Stowe remained passionately devoted to the memory of Eliza, a devotion that Harriet shared. She later had a portrait painted of Eliza to hang over the sitting-room fireplace—a shrine before which she and Calvin worshipped annually on Eliza’s birthday.2

1836. September 29. Harriet gives birth to her first children, twin girls, Harriet and Eliza. Harriet and Calvin have seven children in all, the last born in 1850.

1850-1851. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 passes; it requires the return to slavery of escaped slaves. The Stowes move to Brunswick, Maine, where Calvin accepts a professorship at Bowdoin College after seventeen “lean” and stormy years at Lane in Cincinnati. Harriet’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Edward Beecher, urges her to write in protest of the Fugitive Slave Law.

1861. The Civil War commences. Harriet’s son Frederick serves as a captain in the Union army and is seriously wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg.

1863. Dr. Lyman Beecher dies in Brooklyn, New York, having moved near his son, Henry Ward. The Stowe family moves to Hartford, Connecticut. Harriet builds her dream house that she calls a “castle.” It becomes the social setting for the learned and the literati.

1867-1884. The Stowes establish a winter residence in Mandarin, Florida.

1872. Harriet embarks upon a rigorous public lecturing schedule in the Northeast.

1886. August 6. Harriet’s husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, dies at Hartford.


II THE WRITER
“A pudding for a poem, a sauce for a sonnet.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe is remembered for a single great book. Her works about early New England are “dwarfed into neglect by her one colossal success,” writes one biographer. For her material Stowe is “indebted to her family” more than most novelists. A model of hearth and home, Mrs. Stowe was often conflicted by the demands of domesticity, which she valued, and her desire to write, which was both a spiritual exercise that advanced moral and social reform and a crucial money-making career (she was the primary breadwinner for her family).

1824. At age twelve, Harriet writes “Can the Immortality of the Soul be Proved by the Light of Nature?” It is the earliest of her preserved compositions.

1833-1834. With sister Catharine, Harriet writes a textbook, A New Geography for Children. (1833). In 1843, she publishes her first solo book, The Mayflower, Sketches of Scenes and Characters among the Descendants of the Puritans, a collection of fifteen “longish” tales of domestic fiction. “Uncle Tim,” her prize-winning story from the collection, is published in Cincinnati’s Western Monthly Magazine in 1834, her first piece sold to a commercial outlet. Harriet is active in the city’s literary Semi-Colon Club and writes for its weekly papers, the Chronicle and the Journal.

1851. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is first published as a newspaper serial.

1856. Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, Stowe’s second antislavery novel is published.

1857. Mrs. Stowe is among the first contributors to the new Atlantic Monthly (Vol.1, no.1).

1859-1878. The Minister’s Wooing (1859), Stowe’s first New England novel, is serialized in the Atlantic MonthlyThe Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862) is serialized in the Independent. In the years following she publishes Old Town Folks (1869); Lady Byron Vindicated (1870); and Palmetto-Leaves (1873), sketches in praise of the Stowes’ Florida winter residence. Poganuc People (1878), Stowe’s last novel, is serialized in the Christian Union.


III THE LEGEND
“At a stroke she gave a race to freedom and herself to fame.”

“The Lord himself wrote it, and I was but the humblest instrument in his hand.” —Harriet Beecher Stowe

1851-1852. At age 40, the first installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin appears in the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper in Washington DC. The complete book is published in March 1852 by John P. Jewett.

1853-1856. Harriet Beecher Stowe achieves international recognition. The Stowes make three trips to Europe.

1889. The first official biography of the writer, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published by Harriet’s son, the Rev. Charles E. Stowe. Another seminal work, Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe, is later published in 1898 by Annie Fields, a friend of Mrs. Stowe for many years.

1896. July 1. Harriet Beecher Stowe dies in Hartford, Connecticut. That same year, Houghton, Mifflin and Company of Boston publishes The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, in 16 volumes.


REFERENCES

  • Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New Haven: College and University Press (Twayne Publishers), 1963.
  • Beach, Seth Curtis. Daughters of the Puritans. Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1907.
  • Bolton, Sarah K. Lives of Girls Who Became Famous. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1886.
  • Erskine, John. Leading American Novelists. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1910.
  • Fields, Annie (ed.) Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1898.
  • Gerson, Noel B. Harriet Beecher Stow: A Biography. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976.
  • Gilbertson, Catherine. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1937.
  • Rourke, Constance. Trumpets of Jubilee. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1927.
  • Stowe, Lyman Beecher. Saints, Sinners, and Beechers. London: Ivor, Nicholson and Watson, 1935.

NOTES

  1. Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) Vassar Board of Trustees, 1864-1868.
  2. Gilbertson, Catherine. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1937.