American writer and philanthropist, seventh child of Lyman and Roxana (Foote) Beecher, Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe was born at Litchfield, Connecticut, U.S.A., on the 14th of June 1811. Her father (the Congregational minister of the town) and her mother were both descended from members of the company that, under John Davenport, founded New Haven in 1638; and the community in which she spent her childhood was one of the most intellectual in New England.
At her mother's death in 1815 she came most directly under the influence of her eldest sister Catherine, eleven years her senior, a woman of keen intellect, who a few years later set up a school in Hartford to which Harriet went, first as a pupil, afterwards as teacher. In 1832 her father, who had for six years been the pastor of a church in Boston, accepted the presidency of the newly founded Lane Theological Seminary at Cincinnati. Catherine Beecher, who was eager to establish what should be in effect a pioneer college for women, accompanied him; and with her went Harriet as an assistant, taking an active part in the literary and school life, contributing stories and sketches to local journals and compiling a school geography.
She was married on the 6th of January 1836 to one of the professors in the seminary, Calvin Ellis Stowe. In the midst of privation and anxiety, due largely to her husband's precarious health, she wrote continually, and in 1843 published The Mayflower, a collection of tales and sketches. Mrs Stowe passed eighteen years in Cincinnati under conditions which constantly thrust the problem of human slavery upon her attention. A river only separated Ohio from a slave-holding community. Slaves were continually escaping from their masters, and were harboured, on their way to Canada, by the circle in which Mrs Stowe lived. In the practical questions which arose, and in the great debate which was political, economical and moral, she took a very active part. When, therefore, in 1850, Mr Stowe was elected to a professorship in Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and removed his family thither, Mrs Stowe was prepared for the great work which came to her, bit by bit, as a religious message which she must deliver. In the quiet of a country town, far removed from actual contact with painful scenes, but on the edge of the whirlwind raised by the Fugitive Slave Bill, memory and imagination had full scope, and she wrote for serial publication in The National Era, an anti-slavery paper of Washington, D.C., the story of “Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly.” The publication in book form (March 20, 1852) was a factor which must be reckoned in summing up the moving causes of the war for the Union. The book sprang into unexampled popularity, and was translated into at least twenty-three tongues. Mrs Stowe used the reputation thus won in promoting a moral and religious enmity to slavery. She reinforced her story with A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which she accumulated a large number of documents and testimonies against the great evil; and in 1853 she made a journey to Europe, devoting herself especially to creating an entente cordiale between Englishwomen and Americans on the question of the day.
In 1856 she published Dred; a Tale of the Dismal Swamp, in which she threw the weight of her argument on the deterioration of a society resting on a slave basis. The establishment of The Atlantic Monthly in 1857 gave her a constant vehicle for her writings, as did also The Independent of New York, and later The Christian Union, of each of which papers successively her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was one of the editors. From this time forth she led the life of a woman of letters, writing novels, of which The Minister's Wooing (1859) is best known, and many studies of social life in the form both of fiction and essay. She published also a small volume of religious poems, and towards the end of her career gave some public readings from her writings. In 1852 Professor Stowe accepted a professorship in the Theological Seminary at Andover, Massachusetts, and the family made its home there till 1863, when he retired wholly from professional life and removed to Hartford.
After the close of the war for the Union Mrs Stowe bought an estate in Florida, chiefly in hope of restoring the health of her son, Captain Frederick Beecher Stowe, who had been wounded in the war, and in this southern home she spent many winters.
After the death of her husband in 1886 she passed the rest of her life in the seclusion of her Hartford home, where she died on the 1st of July 1896. She is buried by the side of her husband at Andover.