An American Family: The Beecher Tradition
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HARRIET BEECHER STOWE

Full-length portraited of Henry and Harriet in "bucolic" scene, Henry seated, Harriets standing with hand on Henry's shoulder.

Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Photo by Matthew Brady. Courtesy of The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, Connecticut.
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Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811 and is probably the most famous of the Beecher daughters. She was given the approved religious education of the time, but was troubled her entire life with doubt and preoccupied with the problem of religion. It was not until the age of thirteen that Harriet was sent to Hartford, Connecticut, to attend a school for girls. Her closest confidant was her brother Henry, and throughout their lives they united in speaking out against the evils of slavery. While in Cincinnati with her family, she taught at her sister Catherine's school, and wrote for the Western Monthly Magazine. Her marriage in 1836 ended her literary pursuits until 1852. Her husband encouraged her to write, and her abolitionist sentiments became the subject of Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly. The success of the book was astounding. For nearly thirty years she wrote a book a year. She died in 1896.

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Title page from Woman in Sacred History; a series of sketches drawn from scriptural, historical and legendary sources by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1873).
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  Title page from House and Home Papers (1864).
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"Uncle Tom's Cabin" and influences on American culture

American fiction up to the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was based on the fantasies of writers like Poe and Irving, and the romantic visions of authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, Hawthorne and Melville. In addition, the women publishing in the first half of the nineteenth century wrote sentimental novels appealing to their female audience. Milton Rugoff says: "At her best, Harriet Beecher Stowe was the first American realist of any consequence and the first to use fiction for a profound criticism of American society, especially its failure to live up to promises of democracy."

Reaction to the publication of the book took many forms and inspired plays, music, art, and anti-Tom literature. In 1852 there was actually a "Tom-mania" with Americans singing or playing Uncle Tom Songs and soon a stage version was produced with performances in New York, Boston and London.

The book received international recognition as a plea for the moral cause of abolition and is recognized today as a landmark in the history of American culture as well as American literature.

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The Death of St. Clare (Little Eva's father). Music, published in Boston in 1852. Based upon a scene in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The poetry by M.A. Collier.
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  Poor Uncle Tom. Song and Chorus as sung by Wood's Minstrels at Minstrel Hall, New York. New York c. 1852.
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