University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Harriet Beecher Stowe collection, 1880-1999

Full finding aid (pdf) | Digitized material

Collection Scope and Content

The collection of approximately a dozen files includes ephemera and one piece of correspondence related to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one tract by Stowe, 20th century published scholarship about her literary and personal life, two undated stereoscopic views possibly at her Florida residence and an undated photograph of the author. Also an extensive collection of her works published in magazines and newspapers.

Biographical/Historical Note

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She attended Hartford Female Seminary – which was founded by her sister Catharine – and then taught there until 1832. Under the positive influence of her sister’s teaching methods, Harriet Beecher began to develop her talent as a writer. In 1832 she moved with her family to Cincinnati, where her father became president of Lane Theological Seminary. It was here that she met Calvin E. Stowe, a professor at the seminary, and they were married in 1836. It was in Cincinnati where Harriet Beecher Stowe became a member of the Semi-Colon Club, a local literary society. She also published stories and magazine articles for such publications as Atlantic Monthly and The Independent, and co-authored a book entitled Primary Geography for Children.

In 1850 the Stowe family moved to Brunswick, Maine, where Calvin took a teaching job at Bowdoin College, his alma mater. It was here Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 had deeply disturbed Stowe and was a factor in inspiring her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel was first published in serial form in The National Era from 1851 to 1852. In 1852 it was published in book form in two volumes, later became an international bestseller, and was translated into over 60 languages. The book garnered Stowe both praise and criticism. Abolitionists and reformers lauded Stowe for her compassionate portrayal of slaves, while others attacked her for fabricating unrealistic images of slavery. This led her to publish the key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853, where she presented her source material.

A second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, told the story of a slave rebellion. There is no doubt that Stowe’s work humanized slaves by telling the story of individuals and families affected by the horrors of slavery. In creating the character of Eliza, the slave mother, Stowe drew on her own experiences as a mother. In 1849, her son had Charley died as a result of a cholera epidemic, and the experience of his loss enabled Stowe to imagine how awful it would be for a slave mother to lose her own child.

In 1853, Stowe was invited to the British Isles, where she was received enthusiastically. She returned to Britain and Europe later on, and continued to travel throughout her life. Stowe remained passionate and outspoken about slavery, and through her column in the New York newspaper, The Independent, she urged women to actively oppose slavery by petitioning and participating in lectures. From 1853 to 1864 the Stowes lived in Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin Stowe taught at Andover Theological Seminary. The family also purchased a home in Florida, where they vacationed regularly. In 1864 they moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Calvin Stowe died in 1866, but Harriet Beecher Stowe remained in Hartford until her death on July 1, 1896.