Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, CT to the Rev. Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote Beecher, the sixth of 11 children. The Beechers expected their children to shape their world, and that they did. Their seven sons became ministers, a very effective way to influence society at the time. The Beecher's eldest daughter Catharine worked for women's education. Their youngest daughter Isabella was a founder of the National Women's Suffrage Association. Roxanna Beecher died when Harriet was only five years old. Her later pursuit of painting and drawing honored her mother's talents in those areas. Her sister Catharine became an important maternal influence.
In Litchfield and on frequent visits to her grandmother in Guilford, Connecticut, Harriet and her siblings played, read, hiked, and joined their father in games and exercises. Many of these childhood events were incorporated into Pogunuc People, (1878) Harriet's final novel.
Harriet wrote at an early age: at seven, she won a school essay contest earning praise from her father. She felt her purpose in life was to write. She learned to make a persuasive argument at the family table. The Beechers took in boarders from Tapping Reeve's law school. Lyman Beecher taught religion at Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy and honed the debating talents of both his students and his children. Harriet began her formal education at her father's school.
Harriet was first attended Hartford Female Seminary as a student, in 1823, and then as a teacher. The school was founded by her sister Catharine. There, Harriet furthered her writing talents, spending many hours composing essays.
In 1832 Harriet moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Rev. Dr. Beecher became President of Lane Theological Seminary.
In Cincinnati, Harriet became a member of the Semi-Colon Club, a local literary society in which members wrote articles which were read and discussed by other members. Her time in this club sharpened her writing style. Harriet began to publish stories and magazine articles to supplement the family income. She co-authored a book, "Primary Geography for Children". Following the publication of the book, Harriet received a special commendation from the bishop of Cincinnati due to the book's positive reflection of Catholicism. Harriet's religious tolerance was unusual for Protestants at the time, but seemed in character with her acceptance of humanity.
In 1850 Professor Stowe joined the faculty of his alma mater, Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine. The Stowe family moved to Maine and lived in Brunswick until 1852. From 1836 to 1846 they had seven children. In 1846-7 Harriet took the water cure at Brattleboro, Vermont. In 1848-50 in Maine, she had her last two sons, Samuel (in Ohio) and Charles (in Maine).
Living in Cincinnati had introduced Harriet to the horror of slavery in the United States. When Harriet and Calvin learned that their servant, Zillah, was actually a runaway slave, Calvin and Henry Ward drove her to the next station on the Underground Railroad. One night, Harriet's friend, Mr. Rankin, saw a young woman run across the river over the ice with a baby in her arms. This story moved Harriet deeply and would later become one of the most famous scenes in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The novel was one of the greatest abolitionist tracts of its day and was almost certainly a contributing cause to the American Civil War(1861-65).
"Uncle Tom's Cabin", which appeared first in serial form in an abolitionist newspaper, The National Era, in 1851-52, was written largely in Brunswick, Maine. In 1852 the story was published in book form in two volumes. It was a best seller in the United States, England, Europe, Asia, and translated into over 60 languages. Harriet wrote "Dred" in 1856, "Oldtown Folks" in 1869 and "Palmetto Leaves" in 1873, making Harriet one of the five seminal figures of her generation along with Emerson, Melville, Thoreau and Hawthorne.
In 1852 the Stowes moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where Calvin joined the Andover Theological Seminary. In 1864 Calvin retired from Andover, and they moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Harriet built her dream house, Oakholm. The high maintenance cost and the encroachment of factories caused her to sell it in 1870.
In 1873, Harriet moved to her last home, the brick Victorian Gothic cottage-style house on Forest Street in Hartford. In 1874, Samuel Clemens, who was the age of her twins, moved into the house next door. From 1867 to 1884, she and Calvin relocated in the winter from Connecticut to Mandarin, Florida (now a suburb of Jacksonville) to escape the pressures of her writing and to tend to personal issues. In Florida, Harriet immersed herself in programs to educate former slaves and black children. She also supervised the organization of an Episcopal church and became an early advocate of environmental protection. In 1886, Calvin died.
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