On this day: Harriet Beecher Stowe

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

On this day, two centuries ago, Harriet Beecher was born in the parsonage at Litchfield, Connecticut, to the Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher and his wife, Roxana Foote. The baby born on June 14, 1811, would grow up to become the author of the most important novel of the 19th century.

Click here for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. At the right, click on the live stream for today's 24-hour reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin, beginning at 10:00 A.M. Eastern. At the left, click on the Museum Store for various editions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, including an annotated one edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

This month is the 160th anniversary of the beginning of the serialization of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the anti-slavery newspaper, The National Era. Click here to read the first installment as it appeared on June 5, 1851. Click on the image of the newspaper to make it full size. The June 12 installment is available here.

In 1995, Joan Hedrick won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life, Oxford University Press, 1994. Click here for the Google Books page and here for the Amazon page. Both provide generous samples of the book.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly was so influential in changing attitudes about slaves, had a besetting prejudice of her own -- against Catholics. She inherited her prejudice from her father, who took his family out west to Cincinnati in 1832 to join the "competition . . . in which Catholics and infidels have got the start of us".

In spite of that, Harriet Beecher Stowe said nothing negative about Catholics in her Primary Geography for Children, published in Cincinnati in 1833.

"In her Geography Harriet clearly stated her Protestant evangelical bias, but when she surveyed world religions, she treated Catholicism in the same objective way that she did paganism and Islam, as a system of belief subscribed to by one portion of the world's population. Her strongly held republican principles moderated her evangelicalism. In a climate of opinion shaped by Lyman Beecher's rhetoric about the 'Scarlet Woman of Rome,' this was cause for comment. When Bishop Purcell visited the Western Female Institute in 1833, he praised not only the school bur Harriet's textbook. 'He spoke of my poor little geography, and thanked me for the unprejudiced manner in which I had handled the Catholic question in it.'" Pages 91-92.

By the 1840s, Harriet's attitudes had hardened.

"In 1842, Lyman Beecher, realizing that concerted action was required upon the part of Christian civilization in order to counter 'the infinitude of depraved mind here bursting forth, and rolling in from abroad upon us like a flood,' . . . appealed to a potential supporter, 'how shall we lead in the aggressive movement for the conversion of the whole world? I am on the field. The battle is begun.' . . . Harriet found it hard to resist such trumpet calls, notwithstanding the tolerant view of Catholics she had espoused in the 1830s. Neither had she forgotten the young women of Indiana. . . . Harriet challenged Henry Ward: '[W]ho will educate the Indiana mother if you do not--meet these Jesuits by Yankee women--I'll risk the combat--one bright well trained free born Yankee girl is worth two dozen of your nuns who have grown up like potatoe sprouts in the shades of a convent.'" Search term: Catholic. Page 166.

"A two-part series Harriet wrote for the New-York Evangelist the following winter . . . demonstrated the extent to which she had taken up the Beecher family causes, with all their associated provincialisms and nativistic assumptions. Entitled 'What Will the American People Do?,' this series was a plea for Protestant education in the West to counter the well-organized efforts of the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic nuns. . . . Middle-class Protestant women readers were supposed to draw back their skirts in horror . . . and pack their bags for the West. To galvanize them into action, Harriet cited some ominous statistics from the Catholic Almanac of 1844, which listed all the various order of Catholic nuns and their numbers". Pages 170-171.

Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896. Her grave is in the Phillips Academy Cemetery at Andover, Massachusetts.

Click here for the Wikipedia article on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Click here for the Wikipedia article on Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Click here for the Wikipedia article on Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet's younger brother, a Congregationalist minister whose role in the Beecher-Tilton adultery scandal kept him on the front pages of America's newspaper throughout the 1870s.

UPDATE: Click here for Google News of today's bicentennial of Harriet Beecher Stowe's birth. I liked the op-ed piece in the New York Times. There's also a piece by Joan Hedrick.

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters