Harriet Beecher Stowe

Novelist and nation-changer

When President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1863, he reportedly said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!"

Uncle Tom's Cabin may not have caused the Civil War, but it shook both North and South. It declared the profound value of a human soul and made emancipation inevitable. Susan Bradford wrote, after her state of Florida seceded, "If Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe had died before she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, this would never have happened."

Harriet was born in 1811, the seventh of 12 children of Congregationalist minister, noted revivalist, and reformer, Lyman Beecher. In 1832 the family moved to the frontier city of Cincinnati, where Harriet's father became president of Lane Seminary, soon a center for abolitionists. At 25, Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, professor of biblical literature at Lane.

During her child-rearing years, Harriet read to her seven children two hours each evening and for a time, ran a small school in her home. She described herself as "a little bit of a woman, just as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff; never very much to look at in my best days and very much used-up by now, a mere drudge with few ideas beyond babies and housekeeping."

But a mere drudge she was not. She found time to write, partially to bolster the meager family income. Her early literary success at age 32 (for a collection of short stories) encouraged her, but she still worried about the conflict between writing and mothering. Despite anxiety due largely to her husband's precarious health, she wrote continually and in 1843 published The Mayflower; or, Sketches of Scenes and Characters Among the Descendants of the Pilgrims.

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