Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut June 14, 1811 to Lyman Beecher, a Congregational minister, and his wife, Roxanna Foote. At about age eleven, Stowe moved to Hartford where she was first student then teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, founded by her sister Catharine. Stowe proved to be a fine scholar, excelling especially in writing compositions. In 1832, her father became president of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, and she followed her family there. The family lived near the seminary on Gilbert Avenue between Yale and Chapel streets; now known as the Harriet Beecher Stowe house, it is a state memorial and serves as a resource center on early Cincinnati history.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Photo Portraits Collection Cincinnati History Library and Archives
Cincinnati Museum Center
Stowe's life and experiences in Cincinnati contributed in part to her successful writing career. While there, she and her sister Catharine co-authored Primary Geography for Children published in 1833. Stowe joined one of Cincinnati's literary societies, the Semi-Colon Club, and there honed her writing skills. With Catharine, she also opened the Western Female Seminary at the corner of Fourth and Sycamore streets; however, they gave it up when Harriet became engaged to Calvin E. Stowe, a professor at Lane's, who she married in 1836. Encouraged by her husband, Stowe began her writing career in earnest publishing stories and magazine articles to help support her growing family; six of the Stowes' seven children were born in Cincinnati. They lived in a home near Lane seminary in Walnut Hills.
Also in Cincinnati, which bordered the slave state of Kentucky, Stowe heard intense political debates over slavery and abolitionism, and came into contact with fugitive slaves, learning of the often cruel circumstances of their lives. She witnessed husbands and wives being sold apart and heard stories of other atrocities from friends and acquaintances, such as John Rankin. When she and her husband learned that their servant, Zillah, was actually a runaway slave, Calvin and Harriet's brother, Henry Ward Beecher, took her to the next station on the Underground Railroad. The Beechers and Stowes shared intense abolitionist sentiments.
She and her family lived in Cincinnati until 1850 when her husband accepted a professorship at Bowdoin College, and they moved to Brunswick, Maine. Political events of that year provoked Stowe to take action on her firmly held opinions about slavery. In reaction to the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal to assist an escaped slave, Stowe conceived and began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851. After its publication, the novel became extremely popular and catapulted Stowe to national and international celebrity. Her writing career spanned 51 years, during which she published 30 books and countless shorter pieces. Stowe died on July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut.
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