Harriet Beecher Stowe burns brightly in bicentennial

Harriet Beecher StoweTUESDAY, JUNE 14: Harriet Beecher Stowe has been described as the match that lit the Civil War and freed millions of slaves. Far from an obscure chapter in American History courses, she’s still burning brightly in American culture as we reach her bicentennial birthday this week!

New York Times Book Review on Sunday featured a long recommendation of filmmaker and author John Sayles’ latest novel A Moment in the Sun—which the Times called, “a novel as big as America,” and includes references to Stowe’s influence.

A Best-Selling Record: We’re all abuzz about bestsellers these days—who holds what sales records among Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings and Narnia—but, now, no one can touch Stowe’s record: Uncle Tom’s Cabin was The Bestelling Novel of the 19th Century—period. The only book that outsold it in the 1800s was the Bible.

The Boston Globe on Sunday published “Why Harriet Matters” about the critical reappraisal of her famous novel, which now is ranked with the works of Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson in the world’s literary treasury. Plus, the Globe points out, in a world dominated by men—she was “the nation’s most famous woman of her time.”

The Cincinatti Enquirer is taking credit for her vocation in “Harriet Beecher Stowe learned evils of slavery here firsthand” Writes Steve Kemme: “Before moving from Connecticut to Cincinnati in 1832, Harriet Beecher Stowe knew a little bit about slavery. But living in Cincinnati, a city that bordered a slave state and was deeply divided by the slavery issue, she quickly deepened her knowledge.”

The Chicago Tribune covered a local “storyteller” who dons period garb and portrays Stowe, helping modern audiences understand more about the turbulent life that produced the provocative bestseller. AnneMarie Mannion writes for the Trib that the dramatic presentation portrays “Stowe’s tragedies including the suicide of a beloved brother, the death of an 18-month-old son to cholera, the injury of another son at the Battle of Gettysburg and her bouts of depression. … and her triumphs including meeting with President Abraham Lincoln who greeted her by saying, ‘So this is the little woman who made the big war.’”

On June 14, 1811, Harriet Beecher was born to Lyman Beecher, a Connecticut religious leader who influenced each of his sons to pursue ministry in adulthood. Although Harriet’s mother died when she was 5—leading her to empathize with the separation slave children and mothers felt, she said—Harriet continued on to receive a “male” education at a seminary run by her sister. At 21, Harriet moved to Cincinnati to be with her father, and it was there that she met her future husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe. The Stowes would become lifelong opponents of slavery and participants in the Underground Railroad. (Get the lastest news and more at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.)

If you’re aware of innovative ways that Harriet Beecher Stowe is popping up in the news near you this week, email us at [email protected] We’d like to write more about this pioneering woman who overcame great tragedy—and changed the world.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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