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Harriet Beecher Stowe Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

It's a popular (but untrue) myth that upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln said, "So this is the little lady who started this great big war." Lincoln's rumored greeting first surfaced in an obituary of Stowe in 1896. It's not even clear whether Stowe and Lincoln ever actually met.11

When Beecher Stowe graduated from grammar school at the age of thirteen, one of her essays was read aloud at the assembly; it was entitled "Can the immortality of the Soul be proved by the light of nature?" Her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, turned to the person next to him to ask who had written the impressive piece and was told, "Your daughter, sir." Beecher Stowe later recalled it as the proudest moment of her life.12

The first American film was a fifteen-minute silent version of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Edwin S. Porter. It was released in September 1903, three months before Porter's more famous film, The Great Train Robbery.13

In an awful irony, Uncle Tom's Cabin has been used as a vehicle for racism. Early theatrical versions and films of Uncle Tom's Cabin scrapped Beecher Stowe's plot, turning the characters into grotesque racial stereotypes. Vaudeville stars (and sisters) Rosetta and Vivian Duncan starred in a popular musical number called "Topsy and Eva" that they performed for 30 years. Like many stage interpretations of Uncle Tom's Cabin, it bore little resemblance to the novel's plot and relied heavily on blackface racial gags.14

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the phrase "Uncle Tom" took on a pejorative meaning for African-Americans, who interpreted Tom's forbearance in the novel (and certainly the racist caricatures in later adaptations of the book) as a humiliating kind of servility. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee wrote a paper condemning the novel's depiction of the slave that asked, "Who is the real villain – Uncle Tom or Simon Legree?"15

The Boston publisher Phillips, Sampson & Co. rejected the manuscript of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851 for fear that it would "disturb their business relations with the South."16

The writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of The Yellow Wallpaper, is Harriet Beecher Stowe's grandniece. Her father, Frederick Beecher Perkins, was Stowe's nephew.17

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