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 email@example.com