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Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe used her writing to show white Americans how enslaved people were suffering. Her work challenged popular ideas at the time. It also resulted in harsh criticism from those it threatened. She inspired many authors to write fiction illustrating their ideas for and against slavery.

An engraved image of author Harriet Beecher Stowe StudySmarterHarriet Beecher Stowe/Wikimedia Commons

Early Life

She was born Harriet Elisabeth Beecher on June 14, 1811. Her father had been a respected minister, whose career later brought her to Ohio. She received an education of unusually high quality for a woman at the time. In Ohio she met her husband, a professor at the seminary where her father was president.

Ohio Influences

While residing in Ohio, Stowe met Black people who had been physically attacked over competition for jobs with Irish immigrants. She also witnessed a series of debates on slavery which were held at her father's seminary.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Stowe is most known for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin. The story used fiction to educate white northerners about the cruelty of slavery. The main character, Uncle Tom, is portrayed as having a noble character. He is also shown enduring righteous suffering, which her readers would have recognized as similar to that of Christ. The emotional impact of the novel galvanized support for the abolitionist movement.

Abolitionist: An abolitionist is a person who believes that the practice of human enslavement should be ended (abolished).

The Plot of Uncle Tom's Cabin

The story follows an enslaved person known as Uncle Tom. When he saves the life of a little white girl, her father purchases him. After developing a close friendship, the young girl passes but first asks her father to free their enslaved people. Before the father can follow through, he dies. Tom winds up with a cruel new master who kills him for aiding people that escaped slavery.

Publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin

The first part of the book was published as a serial in a magazine in 1851. In 1852 the book version appeared with the full title of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. The book version was a huge success, selling 300,000 in a year. It would continue on to become the highest seller novel of the entire century. Beyond the United States, the book was also very popular in England.

An illustration from the book Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe StudySmarterIllustration of Uncle Tom's Cabin/Wikimedia Commons

Inspirations for Uncle Tom's Cabin

Stowe often stated that a religious vision had inspired the book. She claimed that while taking communion she had seen the image of a dying enslaved African. However, there were many more down to Earth inspirations for the book.

Fugitive Slave Act

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a large inspiration for Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin. The act put the federal government in charge of capturing people who escaped enslavement. It extended even into states which did not allow slavery. It created strict penalties for anyone helping people who escaped enslavement.

Underground Railroad

Despite the threats of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Stowe and her husband were part of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a network of people who helped to hide people escaping slavery. Their home is still preserved as a landmark because they used it to hide people escaping enslavement. Writings still exist of one person relating their time hiding in Stowe's home as they escaped slavery.

Death of Child

One of Stowe's children passed away at only eighteen months old. She often felt that the helplessness she experienced in the situation made her relate to the helplessness of enslaved people.

Anti-Tom Literature

In response to the popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a variety of works known as "Anti-Tom Literature" was released. This literature was created by authors in favor of human enslavement, outraged by Uncle Tom's Cabin. These novels depicted a world where Black people were incapable of taking care of themselves and benefitted from being under their benevolent masters. The genre faded with the abolition of slavery, now considered propaganda.

Other Books

Uncle Tom's Cabin may have launched Stowe's literary career, but it continued on for many more works afterward. In all, she released 30 books. Most of her works were fictional novels but she did venture into writing non-fiction. Stowe released various articles and even three full-length travel books.

Cover to the book A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin compiled by Harriet Beecher Stowe StudySmarterCover of A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin

A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin

For the disputes over Uncle Tom's Cabin raised by those favoring human enslavement, Stowe had an answer. The answer came in the form of a book entitled A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. For the book, she put together various documents and personal accounts, illustrating how real her depiction of slavery was. The book showed that the horror she wrote about was not just fiction.

Other Views

Stowe was interested in many of the social issues of her day besides human enslavement. She was an advocate for the rights of women, which she compared to anti-slavery struggles. Although she declined to ally herself with some of the leading women's suffragists, she later moved towards some women's suffrage ideas in some of her writings.


The writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which brought the horrors of slavery to a white and northern audience, was Stowe's greatest accomplishment. It would not be her only success though. Despite being on the opposite side of the Civil War, the Governor of Florida gave her an award for aiding Florida's post-war growth by positively describing it in her literature. She also became editor of a women's magazine, Hearth and Home.

so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war - Abraham Lincoln (disputed)1


For her contributions to the abolitionist movement, Stowe is well remembered to this day. Several of the homes she lived in are now landmarks. She was even invited to the White House to meet with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. This meeting gave rise to a famous quote from Lincoln that first appeared in a biography of Stowe written by her son which some historians debate the reality of.


Harriet Beech Stowe died at age 85 on July 1, 1896. The last ten years of her life had been spent suffering from dementia. Although she had lived all over the country, she returned to her birth state of Connecticut before she died.

Harriet Beecher Stowe - Key takeaways

  • Was an abolitionist, advocating against slavery
  • Wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin was a novel which depicted the cruelty and horror of slavery
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin taught white northerners about the evil of slavery and increased support for the abolitionist movement

1 Kimberly J. Largent. Harriet Beecher Stowe: The little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.

Frequently Asked Questions about Harriet Beecher Stowe

She was an abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin

She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, advocating for the end of human ensalvement

She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin which showed white northerners the cruelty of slavery

She was not a slave

She was known for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin which depicted the cruelty of human enslavement 

Final Harriet Beecher Stowe Quiz


What was Harriet Beecher Stowe's occupation?

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What book is Harriet Beecher Stowe most remembered for?

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Uncle Tom's Cabin

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How sucesssful was Uncle Tom's Cabin?

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It was the most sucessful novel of the century 

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What were Anti-Tom novels?

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Pro-slavery propaganda 

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What was an abolitionist?

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A person who wanted to end the practice human ensalvement

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Why was Uncle Tom's Cabin important?

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It showed white northerners the horror and cruelty of slavery 

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Who was Uncle Tom?

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A man who was ensalved

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Why did Uncle Tom's Cabin enrage people in the South?

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It attacked the practice of human enslavement upon which their economy was built 

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What was The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin?

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A book Stowe put together containing various documents and personal accounts illustrating how real her depiction of slavery was.

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What was not an influence to write Uncle Tom's Cabin

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The Civil War 

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