Harriet Beecher Stowe

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12272

Wars often start over big issues but are ignited by small sparks. The American Civil War included a fight over slavery but a little book by an unknown white woman led to freedom for African Americans!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Who was President Abraham Lincoln referring to when he said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war"?

Throughout this series, Famous Abolitionists, you have been learning about some of the most famous people who worked to end slavery in the United States.

If you have not studied, or need a refresher on, the previous lessons, you can find them in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons.

So far, each of the people you have learned about was a former slave. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth escaped from slavery and dedicated the remainder of their life to helping other slaves and educating the public about the horrors of slavery.

In this lesson, you will learn about Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was different from all the abolitionists you have learned about because she was never a slave and she was not African American. As you read and watch information about Harriet Beecher Stowe in this section, be sure to take notes. Your notes will help you complete your page on Harriet Beecher Stowe for the abolitionist book you have been working on.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Image portrait by Richmond and engraved by Ritchie from "Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography," via Wikipedia, is in the public domain.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Connecticut on June 14, 1811. Her mother died when she was a child, so she and her eight siblings were raised by their father. Stowe’s father was a minister. When Stowe was 21, her father took a teaching job at a religious college in Ohio. Harriet and some of her siblings moved to Ohio with him. There, Stowe also got a job as a teacher and began writing. She also met and married Calvin Stowe, and they had seven children together.

Connecticut and Ohio were both free states, meaning slavery was illegal in those states. Growing up in Connecticut, Stowe had no exposure to slavery and knew very little about what was happening to African Americans in the South. When she moved to Ohio, she began to learn a little more about slavery because Ohio was next to Kentucky, which was a slave state. The more she learned about slavery and how slaves were treated, the more upset she became. Stowe wanted to help enslaved people and felt an obligation to teach others in the North about the horrors happening in the South.

In 1851, Stowe began using her talents as a writer to write a story about slavery. She wanted the story to help northerners understand what life as a slave was truly like. The story, titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was about a slave named Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom belonged to a cruel slave owner, who regularly beat him. The story ends with Uncle Tom being beaten to death. While the story was fiction, it accurately described slavery. To ensure the story remained as accurate as possible, Stowe visited plantations and interviewed slaves. Initially, the story was published in segments in newspapers and, eventually, the entire story was published in one book.

The book soon became a bestseller around the world. It sold more than 300,000 copies in the first year and helped people throughout the world understand exactly how badly slaves were treated. Many people even joined the abolitionist movement as a result of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Whereas people in the North were moved by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, people in the South claimed the story was very inaccurate. To prove them wrong, Stowe published a second book; A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the second book, she documented all the real events that took place and how they influence characters and events in her book.

Since Uncle Tom’s Cabin caused so many northerners to begin standing up against slavery, the book is partly credited for getting Abraham Lincoln elected president and leading to the start of the Civil War. During the Civil War, Stowe had the opportunity to meet President Lincoln. When he met her, President Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”

  • What do you think President Lincoln meant when he said this? Share your response with your teacher or parent.

After the Civil War, Stowe continued writing. She wrote several books and became the editor of Hearth and Home magazine, which was one of the first magazines written entirely for women. She also helped found an arts college called the Hartford Art School. The college still exists today under the name the University of Hartford. She died on July 1, 1896, at the age of 85.

As you can see, Harriet Beecher Stowe was an entirely different type of abolitionist when compared with the abolitionists you previously read about. To continue learning about Stowe, watch the following video clip. Remember to continue taking notes as you watch Harriet Beecher Stowe from cetconnect:

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Use your notes to help you answer the follow questions. You can write the answers on a separate piece of paper or discuss your responses with a teacher or parent:

  1. Did people have to be African American or a former slave to be an abolitionist?
  2. What did Harriet Beecher Stowe do that made her an abolitionist?
  3. What do you find most interesting about Stowe?

Remember to keep your notes out because you will be able to use them to help you complete an interactive.

When you have finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to continue your research about Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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