A little exercise for International Womens Day tomorrow: Nominate your “most influential woman” in history.
A teacher and an active abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe might seem an unlikely choice. As a response to the 1850 passage of the second Fugitive Slave act she wrote a story instead of a diatribe. She presented her argument in an insightful way, based on real life stories, through the eyes and mouths of the slaves themselves. An early advocate of #tainment
Uncle Tom’s Cabin first appeared as a 40-week serial in The National ERA, an abolitionist periodical, in June 5, 1851, issue. Because of the story’s popularity, the publisher encouraged Stowe to turn it into a book.
In the first year 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States; one million copies were sold in Great Britain.
In 1855, three years after it was published, it was called “the most popular novel of our day”
It was widely pirated with illegal print copies in circulation all over the world.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book in the USA of that century, following the Bible. By 1857, the novel had been translated into 20 languages.
Reactions were both literary and physical. Objectors published their own books, drove out booksellers who sold Uncle Toms Cabin and amongst the threatening letters sent to Stowe was one including a package containing a slave’s severed ear.
Ten times as many Americans of that time saw the story as a stage play or musical than read the book.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the most-filmed book of the silent movie era.
12 Years a Slave (1853), bestselling narrative of free negro Solomon Northrup published soon after Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The movie of the book won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2014.
The novel heavily influenced later protest literature. Two books which owe a large debt to Uncle Tom’s Cabin include The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
The American civil war started in 1861, and effectively ended slavery. Stowe may not have started the Civil War, but she created an atmosphere in the North to pursue the war to its end.
She is my vote as the most Influential woman of the 19th Century