Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896

Titles by this author
Earthly care, a heavenly discipline

The author of the best-selling abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) wrote many other popular works of fiction and non-fiction on New England life, domestic economy, child rearing, and religious tracts, such as the one in our collection: Earthly Care, A Heavenly Discipline (1852). Stowe was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, one of eleven children of Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), a prominent and influential Congregational minister, and Roxanna Foote Beecher (1775-1816). Harriet was a student and teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, a school founded by her sister Catharine. In 1832, Harriet moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her father became president of Lane Theological Seminary. Harriet met and married Calvin E. Stowe, a professor at Lane. Six of the Stowes' seven children were born in Cincinnati and it would be the setting for the beginning of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In 1850, Stowe moved to Brunswick, Maine where her husband had joined the faculty of Bowdoin College. The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin made her an international celebrity and a controversial figure in the slavery debates of the era. After several other moves, the Stowes settled in Hartford in the 1870s, residing at Nook Farm next to Samuel Clemens and Charles Dudley Warner.

Stowe was arguably the most influential author of Christian moral fiction throughout nineteenth-century America. Uncle Tom's Cabin powerfully dramatized the issue of slavery in terms of its impact on family life and the roles of women, commerce, and Christian duty. No other work brought home to readers the notion of slavery as a sin and the horrors of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850). Its two central stories, the death of little Eva and the martyrdom of Uncle Tom at the hands of Simon Legree, are drawn from the last supper and the crucifixion. In a sense it was Stowe's ability to present the dilemmas of slavery as powerful biblical parables that gave her argument such force.

Written during a "season of heavy trial and deprivation," Earthly Care, A Heavenly Discipline, first published in 1850, was Stowe's most popular and oft-reprinted tract. It focuses on a question that animates Uncle Tom's Cabin and much of Stowe's work. To wit: how does one reconcile the mundane cares of the world with belief in Christ? "Many sensitive and fastidious natures are worn away by the constant friction of what are called little troubles. Without any great affliction, they feel that all the flower and sweetness of their life is faded; their eye grows dim, their cheek careworn, and their spirit loses hope and elasticity, and becomes bowed with premature age; and, in the midst of tangible and physical comfort, they are restless and unhappy. The constant under-current of little cares and vexations, which is slowly wearing out the finer springs of life, is seen by no one; scarcely ever do they speak of these things to their nearest friends." For Stowe, through the recognition of God in the trivialities of one's life, one can move toward a richer spiritual life. She suggested that petulance, irritability, and bad manners "the smaller injustice, and fault-finding, which meet every one, more or less, in the daily intercourse of life; the overheard remark; the implied censure, too petty, perhaps, to be even spoken of -- these daily-recurring sources of disquietude and unhappiness" might be overcome through a faith that accepted providence in our daily lives.

Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: a Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Wilson, Forrest. Crusader in Crinoline: The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co, 1941.

Written by Stephen Rachman