Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, to Roxane Foote and Lyman Beecher. As her mother passed away when she was only four, she was raised primarily by her father- a Presbyterian minister who preached temperance, prison reform, and abolitionism.
After receiving a “male education” at a seminary run by her sister, Catharine, she moved to Ohio and married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a staunch abolitionist who taught at the same seminary as her father. During their time in Ohio, the Stowes became part of the Underground Railroad and hid several fugitive slaves in their house.
A few years later, they settled in Brunswick, Maine. In 1850, while Calvin taught at Bowdoin College, Harriet was inspired to pick up a pen after Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law which prohibited aid to runaway slaves. Incensed, Harriet used her own personal recollections she’d heard from the fugitives she’d helped, as well as a memoir written by an escaped slave: Josiah Henson to inspire her work: Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Published in 1852, the book which depicted the harsh realities of slavery, was (not surprisingly) condemned by slave owners. In Mobile, Alabama, a bookseller was run out of town for daring to sell the novel. Harriet, herself, received a package containing the ear of a slave. While pro-slavery people condemned the work as slanderous, it fueled the abolitionist movement across the United States. 300,000 copies were sold in the US in its first year of publication. It went on to become the bestselling novel of the 19th century.
So powerful was its affect on readers, that Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said upon meeting Harriet, “So, this is the little lady who has made the big war.”
Nowadays, the book has received much criticism for its stereotypical depictions: the “happy darky”, the pickaninny children, and the “Uncle Tom”- too kind, too quick to please his masters. From literary critics, it has been accused of being too sentimental and even a child’s fable.
What hardly can be denied is the power the book had in changing the minds and hearts of many of its contemporary readers. And thus, is a fierce reminder of the power of a pen.
On a similar note, on this same day in 1942, a young girl in Holland named Anne Frank, made her first entry in what would become the most famous diary ever written.