Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born on 14 June 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the seventh of ten children born to Roxana Foote Beecher and the Reverend Lyman Beecher. Lyman Beecher was a well-known Calvinist minister. He preached a fiery, evangelistic brand of Christianity that forecast an eternity in hell for sinners and anyone else unlucky enough to die without first receiving a proper baptism. He also preached passionately against slavery and the abuse of alcohol.
Roxana Beecher, Harriet's mother, did what many good Christian women of her generation did – bore children and worked endlessly around the house before dying young and exhausted. Roxana Beecher succumbed to tuberculosis when Harriet was five years old. Lyman remarried the next year and had four more children with his new wife. Harriet's sister Catharine, eleven years her senior, took over the responsibilities of raising her. To combat the subpar education available to girls at the time, Catharine founded a school called the Hartford Female Seminary. As a student there, Harriet Beecher studied subjects like Latin and math that were usually taught only to boys. After finishing her studies at sixteen, she became a teacher at the school.