While in the contemporary American society women can be seen working in careers and giving a stiff competition on men, the same was not exhibited some decades before. Women were only reserved for domestic duties. This could be attributed to the high connotation of child caring, cooking, house cleaning, etc whenever the term “women’s work” is mentioned. Despite this, some women went beyond this belief and came up with works that were done from home but attained international acclaim. Among them is Harriet Beecher Stowe. While working from home, Harriet became one of the greatest writers with her Uncle Tom’s Cabin selling a number of copies that had never been sold before by any other novelist except the bible (Melton).
Born in Connecticut, Harriet Beecher Stowe was the seventh child in the family of an Evangelical Calvinist minister called Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote Beecher. At age five, Harriet lost her mother, a phenomenon that led to her father’s remarriage.
Having had a not-so-close relationship with her step mother, she lived a life of grief due to the death of her mother. In her family, the siblings grew under the shadow of their father’s ambitions of transforming the world. As a result, most of the male children became ministers while the female children became teachers or writers. In the same line, Harriet became one of the greatest writers through her historical antislavery works Uncle Tom’s Cabin(1852).
Married to Calvin Stowe, one of the outstanding Hebrew Scholars and a professor of biblical literature, Harriet’s family expanded rapidly making his husband’s salary insufficient. She was forced to write for a living. Her first work appeared in 1843, a collection of stories entitled Mayflower and in 1845, she had her first sketch of an antislavery theme in her “Immediate Emancipation.”
In 1849, she lost her son Samuel to cholera a phenomenon that contributed greatly to her emotional state. She became more attached to people who were oppressed or who suffered greatly and helplessly. In her life, she would not have been termed a staunch abolitionist but her little interest in the same cause could not be completely thrown away. In 1850, they moved back to New England before moving to Massachusetts when her husband took up on a job at Andover Theological Seminary. In the same year, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed criminalizing any activity that aided an escaping slave.
This step fired up many New Englanders including Harriet and hence rejuvenated her involvement into her antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The story was serialized in the Washington D.C’s antislavery journal, The National Era. In this book, she points out the evils of slavery and the rot in the human society. The book highlighted the importance of the home and the role of the woman as weapons against slavery. She stresses on the importance of morality in the domestic realm as a power bestowed to the women and she does not dwell too much on other male dominated themes (Melton).
In 1856, she wrote Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. This was still a slavery oriented work. It was inspired by the decision of several prominent blacks to migrate back to Africa. This, to her, was supporting colonization. The novel was a depiction of rebel slaves who resorted to migrate to New York and Canada after their leader’s death. While continued writing antislavery works for the abolitionist New York Independent, she spent a good time of her life writing about the history and culture of New England a place where she was raised. She made great contributions to the regional writing by pointing out the ways of life of New England.
She pointed out her abhorrence of the doctrinal severity of New England but also made sure that she praised the homogenious nature of the town. These novels highlighted her religious intuitions and resisted the male dominated theological and religious authorities. Among these novels that concentrated on New England was Oldtown Folks (1869), The Minister’s Wooing (1859), Poganuc People (1878) and The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862). The religious novel which tried to question male dominion was Agnes of Sorrento (1862) (scanned book).
Despite the many criticisms that marked her greatest work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it is evident that she was a woman with the spirit to change the world from the male dominion to a more liberate and morally upright woman perspective. This was her position in the novel in which she gives the woman a great role in the abolition of slavery. It is also evidenced in her struggle to empower the woman through her call for “…feminism, economic and social reforms.” Her contribution in the feminist world can also be attribute to her questioning of the male dominated theologies through her book Agnes of Sorrento. All these are evidence to prove that Harriet Beecher Stowe was undoubtedly one of the greatest feminist writers in the History of the United States.
Melton, Bonnie. “In and Out of the Kitchen: Women’s Work and Networks in 19th Century American Fiction.” Domestic Goddesses. Editor Kim Wells. 1999. Web.