Form and Content
The chronology of Stowe’s life is followed, chapter by chapter, in John Anthony Scott’s Woman Against Slavery: The Story of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book documents her life from her birth in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, through her vicissitudes as daughter, student, wife, mother, and author, while making the reader aware of the various influences that brought Stowe ultimately to her destiny as the historic “woman against slavery.”
Stowe’s early family life, her education, and the intensely religious background that contributed to her later obsession with the abolitionists’ fight against slavery are the subject of the first several chapters in the book. The author tells of the reputation of Stowe’s father for having become, by 1830, the country’s most popular and most prominent Congregationalist revival preacher. In spite of the travel that was required in his work, he was a devoted father, teacher, and friend to his children. That all five of Stowe’s brothers followed in Lyman Beecher’s footsteps and became prominent members of the clergy bears witness to their father’s influence, an influence which certainly would have equally affected Harriet and which would have created in her the strong Puritan ethic that she demonstrated throughout her lifetime.
Scott relates Stowe’s years as a young woman in Cincinnati; while subservient to her sister, Catherine, with whom she shared the title of principal of a school for young girls, Harriet was nevertheless free enough in her movement about the city to be able to observe firsthand the shocking treatment of runaway slaves. Desperate with fright, slaves frequently crossed from the South into what they hoped would be freedom on the other side of the Ohio River. Stories told by the runaways and by former slaves who had bought their freedom and settled in Cincinnati touched Harriet deeply, and it was this experience that she tucked away and used many years later in her incredibly popular novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (18511852).
In a scholarly, methodical manner, Scott tells the story of Stowe, taking the reader step by step through the phases of her life. His treatment is that of a historian whose objective is to tell, with truth and accuracy, the story of one whose place in the social history of the United States cannot and should not be ignored. The book is indexed and contains an annotated bibliography as well as photographs.