Let Your Words Change the World

Are you looking to improve your student’s writing?  Do you know that 2011 is the 200th birthday of Connecticut’s First Lady of Literature?

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a novel that changed people’s minds about slavery.  The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is now providing a writing program for grades 4 -10.  Activities will introduce students to Stowe’s life and work and encourage them to use their words to create change (practicing expository and persuasive writing skills).

“Let Your Words Change the World” program will:

  • Improve your students’ writing, reading and research skills
  • Use multi-media platforms and up-to-the minute tools and resources.
  • Promote  classroom discussion on civic engagement and advocacy
  • Offer students a chance to be recognized for their writing

The Stowe Center has created this specialized curriculum, with a rich variety of resources and tools in honor of Stowe’s 200th birthday.

December Programming at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center:

Seasonal Tour: Christmas at the Stowe’s-Experience the Stowe family’s life during the holiday season and view rarley-seen family artifacts and historically accurate decorations.  Gain insight in the social changes in the 19th-century celebration of Christmas.  Learn how the Beechers and the Stowes celebrated the season with special attention to sharing their good fortune and spending time with family and friends.

Kids Action Guide

Kids Action Guide

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center uses Stowe’s story to inspire a commitment to social justice and positive change – especially among students!

We were excited to learn that Youth Service America (YSA) has just released the Kids in Action Guide, its “first guide written for kids by kids.” This resource is a road map for helping students make their ideas a reality. Visit http://www.ysa.org/resources to download it for free!

How can you utilize this guide to make a difference in your own community? Share your thoughts, ideas, and plans!

Grades 7 – 10: Making Connections

Talk about it

Many Americans had ignored slavery; Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book that helped them change their views. The book was a best seller but it was also controversial.  Stowe received threats for speaking out (though no harm came to her).

What current issues in this country or around theworld need more attention?

Why are they ignored?

How can we take action on these issues?

Write About It

Stowe’s critics accused her of inaccuracies and creating false images of the South. Her response to this criticism was to publish A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  In this book, Stowe provided the real-life stories she used to create her novel.

Using the Opinion section of your local newspaper, choose an issue that interests you.  Respond to a writer with a different point of view than your own.

What facts can you use to support your argument?

This activity correspond with Let Your Words Change the World: A Bicentennial Celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Unit 4 curriculum for grades 7 – 10.  Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 26 – February 16.  To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at jbaldini@stowecenter.org

Grades 7 – 10: Stowe and the Civil War

2011 marks not only Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 200th birthday, but also the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the start of the Civil War.  Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is credited with fueling support for the abolition movement that led to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Published a decade before the war began, Uncle Tom’s Cabin personalized the political and economic arguments about slavery with stories told in a conversational style.  Stowe’s writing changed thew way many Americans viewed slavery, inspiring opposition to slavery and support for abolition and emancipation.  Stowe’s story was more convincing and compelling than political speeches and newspapers.

The issue of slavery (the system that treated some people as property of others) was a major point of contention in the 19th century United States.  The division between “free” states (where slavery had been legally outlawed) and “slave” states (where slavery was allowed) caused friction.  In 1820, the Missouri Compromise balanced admission of new states between “free” and sslave” states.  No territories north of the southern border of Missouri could be admitted as “slave” states.

The Civil War was caused by regional economic conflicts between North and South and humanitarian opposition to enslaving people.  Antislavery sentiment was growing and by the 1850s the numbers of people escaping slavery increased.  Those who were owners of enslaved people demanded legal recourse for the economic loss of this property.  The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring everyone to catch escaping enslaved people, was adopted to appease the South, against strong opposition by the North.   Tensions grew, Southern states threatened to secede from the U.S. and form a separate nation.  Abrahamm Lincoln, elected President in 1861, did not want the Union to disintegrate.  The Civil War erupted in 1861 with the secession of South Carolina.  The four year war divided the nation and almost destroyed the United States.

Stowe’s words in Uncle Tom’s Cabin were not universally appreciated.  The most liberal abolitionists felt it did not call strong enough for slavery’s immediate end.  Pro-slavery advocates accused Stowe of fabricating untrue and one-sided depictions of slavery and claimed it was sanctioned in the Bible.  Moderate anti-slavery advocates and reformers praised it for putting a human face on the institution.

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe illustrated slavery’s effect on families and helped readers to empathize with enslaved people.  Stowe’s characters debated the causes of slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act, what could be done, and the future of freed people.

When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he is reported to have said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War.”  The remark captures the significance of Stowe’s novel and its impact on the United States.  Stowe implored the president to sign the Emancipation Proclamation freeing people living in the Confederate States.  On January 1, 1863, he did.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin called on readers to confront the institution of slavery.  Stowe’s words changed the world and continue to be provocative and controversial today.

This article  corresponds with Let Your Words Change the Word: A Bicentennial Celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Unit 4 curriculum for grades 7 – 10.  Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 26 – February 16.  To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at jbaldini@stowecenter.org

Comics as Instruments for Social Change

Comic strips are a great way to combine storytelling and art to get your message across.  The first newspaper comic strips appeared in the late 19th century and soon expanded to full-length stories, or comic books.  Today, local and national newspapers both include comics that are funny and thought provoking.

Activity 1

Turn to the comics section of your newspaper.  Read through the comics and choose one that is appealing to you.  Who are the characters?  What larger message is the artist trying to get across?  Does the artist/writer use any stereotypes?  What are they?

Activity 2

Using the same comic used in Activity 1 or choosing another, predict what tomorrow’s episode is going to look like and design the page and text. You can draw this out on a piece of paper or use design software on your computer.

Activity 3 – for advanced students

Borderland is a social change comic book that tells the story of seven victims of human trafficking or modern-day slavery.  As a class, read one story and discuss its significance and importance. Next, choose an important social issue and design a 10 panel comic strip to tell your story.  You can work individually or as a collaboration (one student designs the comic and the other student writes the text).

Link to Borderland: http://issuu.com/borderland/docs/preview


Grades 7 – 10: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Artist

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote to entertain and inspire action.  However, writing wasn’t her only interest; Harriet was also artist.  While Harriet painted for enjoyment, she often used her brush and artistic vision to enhance her writing, and to raise money for causes that were important to her.

Harriet Beecher first took up drawing while attending school in Litchfield, Connecticut at Sarah Pierce’s Female Academy.  At the school, young ladies studied the arts through courses in map-drawing, painting and embroidery.  Pierce also invited artists from Europe to help train her students.  At thirteen, Harriet moved to Hartford and became a student at her sister Catharine’s school, the Hartford Female Seminary. There, in addition to classes in literature, mathematics and the sciences, she studied drawing. Later, Harriet became a teacher at the school and considered a career teaching art. Harriet blended her love of writing and drawing in her adult life.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote numerous books, including textbooks and children’s stories before beginning Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851.  She frequently suggested illustrations for her works of fiction.  Stowe understood the power of images to convey ideas and knew utilizing this technique would help humanize enslaved people.  In writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she showed her readers the evils of slavery by using her words to depict graphic images of slavery that were based on fact.  Stowe talked to many people and did lots of research so her words could paint a picture for her readers.  She even wrote to the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass for information about plantation life to be sure she created realistic imagery. “In the course of my story, the scene will fall upon a cotton plantation – I am very desirous to gain information from one who has been an actual labourer on one. I have before me an able paper written by a southern planter in which the details & modus operandi are given from his point of sight – I am anxious now to have some now from another stand point – I wish to be able to make a picture that shall be graphic & true to nature in its details,” Stowe wrote in 1851.

Writing in this descriptive style, Stowe made Uncle Tom’s Cabin a more powerful book, which allowed readers to better understand the lives of enslaved people.

Stowe also found other ways to use art to correct social injustices. Following the Civil War, many people that had been enslaved struggled to adjust to being free.  Stowe donated her paintings to help raise funds for a church in Florida (where she lived during the cold New England winters), to address these community needs.  Back in Hartford, Stowe helped establish the Hartford Art School, which eventually became part of the University of Hartford.

Stowe used her love of art to create positive change.  What will you do with your talent?

This article  corresponds with Let Your Words Change the Word: A Bicentennial Celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Unit 3 curriculum for grades 7 – 10.  Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 26 – February 16.  To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at jbaldini@stowecenter.org

Grades 7 – 10: Unit 2 Beecher Circular Letters

Look through the Hartford Courant and list issues covered in the articles.  Working in groups of three, each member will pick a different topic.  Writing three separate letters, each person must write an opening paragraph defining the issue expressing their point of view, and acknowledging the other side of the issue.  Then, pass it on to the person to your right who will then add a paragraph telling his/her point of view – back it up with facts and pertinent details.  Pass it to the third person who must write the concluding paragraph – restating the dominant position and summarizing why the arguments are sound. You will do this for all three of the letters.

Grades 7 – 10: Unit 2 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Activist

Activism, or civic engagement, was an important part of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life.  From an early age, she was taught the importance of participation and a responsibility to help shape America.  She and her family debated many political issues and world events and were taught to stand up for what they believed in.

In 1832, Harriet moved to Cincinnati, Ohio with her sister Catharine and her father Lyman, after he was appointed president of Lane Seminary.  The distance did not stop the extended Beecher family from continuing their debates and discussions of such issues as the abolitionist movement.  They wrote “circular” letters; each family member wrote a paragraph or two and then sent the entire letter on to the next destination so news went full circle, from Hartford to Cincinnati and stops in-between.

Her new residence gave Stowe much to write about.  Ohio was a free state; but across the river, Kentucky was a slaveholding state.  In Ohio, Stowe met fugitives from slavery, heard abolitionists speak, and observed what she described as the “nightmare abomination” that was slavery.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required everyone to help slave owners track down those escaping enslavement making it impossible for enslaved people to find a safe place in the United States.  The law also stated that anyone helping an enslaved person escape would be fined or sent to jail.  Stowe could not believe what she saw.  America, founded on principles of freedom and equality, applied those principles unevenly.  Stowe thought this was awful and felt a responsibility to call attention to this injustice.  This led her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which humanized enslaved people and changed the way many felt about slavery leading up to the Civil War.

Stowe’s brothers also worked for social change.  Charles became Florida’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, following the Civil War, and opened a school for emancipated people, a cause Stowe helped raise money for.  William was an advocate of abolition; Edward was an abolitionist who wrote about the injustices of slavery; George was an abolitionist who joined the Anti-Slavery Society; and Henry was an abolitionist and a minister who gave sermons on the wrongs of slavery.

Stowe’s sisters were active in education reform and women’s rights issues.  Catharine, with the help of her sister Mary, opened the Hartford Female Seminary on Main Street in Hartford and instructed students in rhetoric, logic, natural and moral philosophy, chemistry, history, latin, algebra and drawing at a time when most 19th century women were expected to marry and manage homes.  Stowe’s sister Isabella Beecher Hooker became one of the most prominent advocates of women’s suffrage in the United States.  She organized suffrage conventions in Hartford and Washington D.C.

Harriet and her siblings spoke out about the problems they saw around them.  Stowe used her talent as a writer to make change.  What will you do?

This article  corresponds with Let Your Words Change the Word: A Bicentennial Celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Unit 2 curriculum for grades 7 – 10.  Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 26 – February 16.  To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at jbaldini@stowecenter.org

Grades 7 – 10: Unit 2 Worksheets

Unit 2 – Vocabulary

Public Service Announcements

Video Postcard

These worksheets correspond with Let Your Words Change the World: A Bicentennial Celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Unit 1 curriculum for grades 7 – 10.  Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 26 – February 16.  To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at jbaldini@stowecenter.org

Grades 7 – 10: Unit 1 Persuasive Writing

The newspaper contains opinion pieces and editorials, which allow individuals to express their opinions.  They are examples of the privileges ensured by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  Editorials can influence, interpret, clarify, criticize, analyze, inspire and sometimes praise.  Turn to the editorial pages in the Hartford Courant.  List all the issues that are addressed.  Select one article that is of particular interest to you.

Highlight all the facts and underline all the opinions in the editorial.

What is the topic of the editorial?

What problem or issue does the editorial expose?

What is the writer’s viewpoint on this topic?

What solutions does the editorial recommend?

What additional solutions could you offer?

Do you consider this a well written piece of work? Why? Why not?

Grades 7 – 10: Unit 1 Civic Engagement

Civic engagement means working to become more involved in one’s community through learning, advocating, and educating yourself and your peers about important issues and working to improve quality of life.

Harriet Beecher Stowe did not know it at the time, but her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed the way Americans viewed slavery and enslaved people forever.  This was just one way in which Stowe became involved and used her words to change the world.

What can you do to become more involved in your community and make a difference?

Civic Engagement 101

Download “Civic Engagement 101” worksheet from the “Grades 7 – 10: Unit 1 Worksheets” post and then go to http://www.youthactivism.com/Success_Stories.php where you will find a list of youth organizations created and run by students like you.  The worksheet will help students explore these different organizations and help you brainstorm ways to put your passion and ideas into motion.