Historical Abolitionist of the Month: Harriet Beecher Stowe
By Solveig Haugen
The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our historical abolitionist of the month is Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In 1852, author and social activist Harriet Beecher Stowe popularized the anti-slavery movement with her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While slavery was prominent in the South, many Americans did not encounter slavery daily; therefore, many did not fully grasp its appalling nature. Stowe’s novel, though fiction, was the window that allowed Americans to see the brutality and inhumanity of slavery.
Stowe searched for firsthand accounts from slaves and enlisted friends and family for information as she composed her story. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published as a series in a weekly newspaper in 1851. The following year it became a book. In the United States alone it sold 10,000 copies the first week and 300,000 in its first year. Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the best-selling novel of the 19th century.
Stowe’s novel became a turning point for the abolitionist movement; she brought clarity to the harsh reality of slavery in an artistic way that inspired many to join anti-slavery movements. She demanded that the United States deliver on its promise of freedom and equality for all.
And yet, slavery still exists. There are approximately 21 million slaves in the world today and it’s a $150 billion industry. Today’s abolitionists should follow Stowe’s example: try to reach a large audience and develop diverse allies. We need a broad-based multi-sector movement to disrupt the business of trafficking. The financial equation needs to be flipped in order to decrease the profits and increase the risks for traffickers. Lastly, the government must spend adequate resources to create lasting and effective measures to combat trafficking.
To learn more about how to build on the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe and other abolitionists, please see our blueprint, on “How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.