For Women’s History Month, A More Perfect Blog will feature profiles of influential and heroic female leaders from our middle school curriculum, Being An American: Exploring the Ideals That Unite Us. Use the profiles to start a class discussion on what makes a hero and how each of the people we describe is heroic.
Harriet Beecher Stowe used the power of her pen to open the eyes of a nation to the injustices of slavery. She was born in Connecticut in 1811. She lived in a Protestant, abolitionist tradition: her father was a minister, her brother a theologian, her husband a clergyman.
When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Stowe knew she had to act. At the time, women had few ways to engage in politics. She could not run for office, or even vote, but she was undeterred. Ever resourceful, she found a political voice in her writings. She began to do research by interviewing former slaves and others who had personal experience with slavery. Her first novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, told of the abuse suffered by enslaved people and families in emotional, human terms.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold 10,000 copies in its first week and was a bestseller in its time. She reached peoples’ hearts and minds in a way that politicians had not been able to do. Historians believe that the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin sped up the outbreak of the Civil War, as more and more people believed the nation had a duty to end slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writing truly changed a nation’s view of justice.
Photo Credit: “Harriet Beecher Stowe.” Published by Johnson, Fry & Co., 1872, after Alonzo Chappel. Part of African American Odessy, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, Washington DC 20540. Digital ID: cph 3a12898.