March 8 is International Women’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate the many Contributions women have made to our society. One of the most influential women in United States history lived in Connecticut.
An impressive Hartford house is where Harriet Beecher Stowe lived the last 24 years of her life. Oliver Scholes, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Program Coordinator, gave us a tour of the newly restored home, which is now a museum.
You probably know Stowe’s book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” But did you know it was by far the best selling novel of the entire 19th century?
“And at the time it’s published, the best selling novel by orders of magnitude,” Scholes said,
Stowe was born in Litchfield, but came up with the idea for her famous novel when she lived in Cincinnati, Ohio as a young woman. She went across the river to Kentucky, a slave state, and saw something that always stayed with her.
“Mother and child being sold separately at a human auction, which is a very common experience in the American system of slavery, but not something Stowe had thought about much before,” said Scholes.
Then Stowe suffered a personal tragedy of her own. Her son died at just 18 months old. Suddenly, Stowe knew what it was like to lose a child, just like the mother at that slave auction.
“And she resolves that the only way she is going to feel able to process her own grief is to do something,” Scholes said.
That something became Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was first published in pieces in a newspaper, then as a book.
“It has this incredible impact, and the experience for a lot of the white people reading it is for really, for the first time, make an emotional connection to enslaved people, to black people in America,” said Scholes.
It became a phenomenon. The book was published around the world, while it was loathed and mocked in the south, further dividing a divided country. A decade later, Abraham Lincoln met Stowe and famously said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
Stowe may have been anti-slavery, but she did not think African-Americans should vote. She wasn’t even sure white women should vote. She was progressive, but still a product of her time, which they acknowledge at the Stowe Center.
“Not to put Stowe on a pedestal and to imagine her as a person who did a great thing in the past and we should come and celebrate it, but as something that is living and something that continues,” Scholes said.
One way they do that is, at the end of the tour, they have visitors write down something about the world they would like to change by writing their own book.