Grades 4 – 6: Unit 2 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Activist
Activism, or civic engagement, was an important part of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life. Her father, Lyman Beecher, encouraged his family to actively participate in politics, and thought them the importance of their responsibility to help shape America. He encouraged conversation at home and often led the family in discussions of important issues of the day. Stowe’s mother, Roxana Foote Beecher, was an avid reader and always interested in learning. As an adult, Stowe lived the ideals of both her parents, actively working for social change.
In 1832, Harriet moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio. Ohio was a free state; but across the river, Kentucky was a slaveholding state. During this time, Stowe met fugitives from slavery, heard abolitionists speak, and observed what she described as the “nightmare abomination” that was slavery.
She could not believe what she saw. America, founded on principles of freedom and equality, applied those principles unfairly. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a crime for citizens of free states to help runaway enslaved people. Stowe thought this was awful and felt a responsibility to call attention to this injustice. So, she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which humanized enslaved people and changed the way many felt about slavery.
Following the Civil War, the Beechers and Stowes knew that racial equality needed more than legislation and people needed education. Stowe and her brothers and sisters did their part to call attention to this issue:
- Charles became Florida’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction and opened a school for emancipated people, Harriet helped raise money for it;
- William was an advocate of abolition; Edward was an abolitionist who wrote about the injustices of slavery; George was also an abolitionists, and joined the Anti-Slavery Society; Henry was an abolitionist and a minister who gave sermons on the wrongs of slavery.
- Catharine, Mary and Isabella were active in education reform and women’s rights issues.
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 4 – 6. Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 5 – 19. To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org