Monday, 9 April 2012

Suffragettes, Abolitionists and Authors - Part I

I thought I'd dip back into my List of 100 Influential Women (or rather Deborah Felder's list).  I always learn something new and inspiring from writing these posts. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896) Felder rated Stowe number 11 on her list of 100 influential women.  Harriet was born and died in Connecticut.  She was one of her father's 13 children.  Her mother (of 9 childen) died when she was 5 years old.  Harriet's father was a Presbyterian minister and she had several brothers who became notable ministers.  Harriet attended Hartford Female Seminary, run by her elder sister Catherine, where she received a classical (traditionally 'male') education.  When she was 21 she moved to Cincinnati to join her father who had become president of the Lane Theological Seminary.  During a cholera outbreak, she visited the home of another seminary student in Kentucky.  It is said that there she was taken to see a slave auction, an experience that left its mark. 

An uncle in Cincinnati invited her to join a writers' club, called the Semi-Colon Club, where she met Calvin Ellis Stowe and his wife Eliza Tyler Stowe.  When Eliza died a few years later, Harriet married Stowe, a professor at the seminary.  They later followed his career to Maine, where the couple took part in the Underground Railroad, assisting fugitive slaves.

Of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe is most famous for having written Uncle Tom's Cabin.  This book was initially published in the anti-slavery journal National Era, in installments over a nine month period before it was published in 1852.   When she and her family were later invited to the White House to meet President Lincoln, it is rumoured that he said something to the effect, "So you're the little lady who caused this great big war."  In fact, no one knows quite what was said, but journal entries of both Harriet and of her daughter refer to this visit as 'funny' and they apparently found the experience quite amusing.  I doubt it can be said that she caused the war, but her book certainly will have fuelled the discussions about slavery.

I have to confess to having not read Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I have now added it to my book list.  She wrote other books, including novels, memoirs, a travel guide and a book about domestic managed co-authored with her sister Catherine.  Some of these books are available online, including Agnes of SorrentoI have downloaded a PDF file of her and Catherine's book, The American Woman's Home (published 1869).


Carolyn said...

What an interesting lady! I have to confess to not having read Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I thought it was just about required childhood reading for all Americans, is it not?
Thank you so much for your sweet comments, and I am so glad you had a wonderful trip. I'm super impressed that you have kept intact eggshells all these year too :D

Shelley said...

Carolyn, I may in fact have read it and just not remembered, but I would have thought I would remember a book like that. Keeping hollow eggshells for nearly 20 years has to qualify me for membership in Hoarders Anonymous or something, doesn't it? Still, I'll find a use for them yet!

Beryl said...

It's so much work to hollow out eggshells, that I can see keeping them forever. Don't remember reading about you keeping eggshells, but I also don't remember much about reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. Since I went to public school, it would not have been required reading, just like we were never allowed to have Christmas Pageants (Winter Program) or Easter Vacation (Spring Break). My children were required to read it, since they went to Catholic school, where heavily Christian literature, (which I do remember this book as), was encouraged. Thanks for all the information about Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was fascinating.

Terri said...

I teach about Stowe in my American Literature I course. For many years, I heard that Uncle Tom's Cabin wasn't very well written, but I assigned it one semester and we were all surprised at how accessible we found the novel to be.

steppingmywaytobliss said...

Shelley! I can't believe you posted this now. I just started "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (having never read it before) a few days ago and I love it. I can't wait to finish and, more than likely, do a post on it. I can not believe this book has escaped my notice these 40 some odd years. Of course, I have always known about it but for whatever reason, it was not required reading in my school days. Let me know when you read it!

LR @ Magnificent or Egregious said...

What an interesting post, I really want to read that book now!

Shelley said...

Beryl - I don't think I have admitted here to keeping hollowed out eggshells! You'll have to go over to Caroline's amazing blog and look at her cute little coloured eggshell planters. They have to be seen to be believed. Funny, I never thought about Spring Break being Easter vacation...I'm almost certain we had Christmas stuff in my public school, but perhaps I'm older than you and all the PC stuff hadn't yet kicked in.

Terri - I wonder if the definition of 'well written' changes over time? I'm slogging my way through a fascinating book written in the late 19th Century (Theory of the Leisure Class)and while I find the writing style extremely turgid, it is suprisingly difficult to re-word, which if course I'll need to do if I'm going to share about it here. I read the American Woman's Home by HBS while in Australia and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I'm not surprised her Uncle Tom is readable.

Bliss - How fun that you are reading it just as I post about the author. Serendipity strikes again!

LR - Me, too!