The little woman who started a great war
Harriet was born the sixth of eleven children in a small Connecticut town twenty-two years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
Her father was a prominent and outspoken minister, her mother the highly-educated and intelligent granddaughter of a Revolutionary War general.
A storm was brewing over deep flaws and uneasy compromises in the Constitution.
Little did Harriet know the role she would play in that storm…
Her parents taught their children to think for themselves and expected them to make a difference in the world.
All seven of her brothers became ministers. Her oldest sister, Catharine, pioneered women’s education. Her youngest sister, Isabella, was a founder of the National Women’s Suffrage Association.
But none of them would ever match Harriet’s fame.
Her progressive-minded father took great pains to ensure a quality education for each of his children. Harriet learned the skill of persuasive argument at the dinner table.
At the age of seven, she won a school essay contest, which earned her praise from her father and instilled in her a belief that her life’s purpose was to write.
At age thirteen, Harriet enrolled in a girl’s school run by her older sister Catharine, where she received a classical education. She spent hours composing essays.
Seven years later, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to join her father. They lived on the Ohio river across from Kentucky, the literal dividing line between slave states on the south and anti-slavery states on the north.
There, she joined a literary club. This was also her first real and personal exposure to slavery. She met a number of ex-slaves who had escaped slavery by crossing the river. She listened to their stories.
In the literary club she met Calvin, a widower and theology professor she described as “rich in Greek and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, and alas! rich in nothing else…” They married on January 6, 1836 and eventually had seven children together.
Calvin and Harriet were ardent critics of slavery. They supported the Underground Railroad, temporarily housing fugitive slaves in their home and helping them to secure freedom in Canada.
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, prohibiting assistance to fugitives.
During a communion service, Harriet had a vision of a dying slave and felt inspired to write his story.
On March 9, 1850, she wrote to an editor of an anti-slavery journal,
“I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak…”
In 1851, at the age of forty, Harriet published her first anti-slavery essay entitled “Life Among the Lowly.”
One year later, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s first essay had expanded into the book that took the world by storm, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the first year of publication, 300,000 copies sold in the U.S. and over a million copies sold in Britain.
“I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity, because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.”
In 1861, nine years after Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, the “day of wrath” arrived and U.S. erupted into the Civil War.
Harriet was invited to the White House in 1862, where she met President Abraham Lincoln. He reportedly greeted her by saying, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”
W.E.B. DuBois later wrote of Stowe:
“Thus to a frail overburdened Yankee woman with a steadfast moral purpose we Americans, black and white, owe gratitude for the freedom and union that exist today in the United States of America.”
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Harriet’s “steadfast moral purpose” that brought it into existence, were a triumph for freedom and humanity.
But nearly 150 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, I’m sickened to report that the scourge of slavery still plagues mankind.
In fact, there has never been more slaves in the world than now.
- An estimated 29.8 million people live in slavery today.
- Slavery generates $32 billion for traffickers globally each year.
- Approximately 78% of victims are enslaved for labor, 22% of victims are enslaved for sex.
- 55% of slavery victims are women and girls.
- 26% of slaves today are children under the age of 18.
- An estimated 60,000 victims of slavery are enslaved in the United States.
Today I echo Harriet’s words: The time is come when everyone who can “speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak.”
But I challenge you to do more than speak.
I personally challenge YOU to accept the Flour Bomb Challenge to rescue children from sex slavery.
Today marks the official launch of this campaign that I and hundreds of volunteers have been working on for two months. We’re raising money for Operation Underground Railroad to combat this plague and to rescue children across the world.
I urge you to join us in taking a stand against the monsters who abuse and defile innocent children.
If one little woman could start a war to end slavery, imagine what millions of good citizens with a “steadfast moral purpose” can do…