Our two pennies: Harriet Beecher Stowe fits the bill

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front page, The New York Times, 1/27/16

In today’s New York Times, A woman on the $10 Bill? Everyone Has 2 Cents to Contribute we read about the widespread interest in the selection of a woman for the new ten dollar bill.  Western New Yorkesr can be proud that Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman are in the running.

In September, when U.S. Treasurer Rosa Rios hosted an event in Seneca Falls, I nominated Harriet Beecher Stowe (below, also making the “gold standard” of print). Until the all votes are cast, this race is fluid.  I still stand by Stowe.

Not only was she an abolitionist and feminist, she would become the first artist featured on American currency. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best selling novel of its day. And when all the numbers are added up, the novel may still well be the most read book in American literary history. That’s a winner, baby!

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• September 1, 2015

In today’s paper, “Taking Note Of U.S. History,” we read of a spirited meeting in Seneca Falls hosted by U.S. Treasurer Rosa Rios. One featured topic was which woman should be chosen for the redesigned $10 bill.  Many laudable names came to the forefront: Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/08/31/tubman-anthony-ten-dollar-bill-seneca-falls-treasurer-town-hall-meeting/32482793/

While it may be the English professor in me thinking wishfully, I propose one of America’s most influential authors: Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 – 1896)

Stowe may be remembered for one of the oft repeated–if maybe apocryphal–quips of the 19th Century.  When President Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, the Great Emancipator supposedly introduced himself with, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book [Uncle Tom’s Cabin] that started this great war.”

Today, Lincoln’s semi-serious witticism rings somewhat condescending. But he was not wrong. Stowe’s anti-slavery  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly” was second to the Bible as the best-selling book of the 19th century. In a time period when women were largely excluded from the public sphere, Stowe’s depiction of the harshness of slavery galvanized the abolitionist movement by giving names, faces and feelings to those lowly, striking chords behind political abstractions like the Missouri Compromise or the Fugitive Slave act. Nor did Stowe just write. She and her husband, at great risk, housed several fugitive slaves escaping north to Canada

Furthermore, Stowe was also an outspoken feminist, championing the rights of married women. As important as was suffrage, women had to wage a daily struggle for the right to own property. Framing the argument in terms of black servitude,  Stowe argues that  “The position of a married woman … is, in many respects, precisely similar to that of the negro slave. She can make no contract and hold no property … In the English common law a married woman is nothing at all. She passes out of legal existence.” We’ve come a long way, baby — and not without women like Stowe exposing basic injustices.HBS-page-0-448x580

Plus, my fellow voters, Stowe has name recognition. Generations of high school and college students have waded through her typically windy 19th century serialized tome. Whether or not they found the novel heavy handed or melodramatic, they remember Simon Legree selling Uncle Tom “down the river” and the tear jerking death of baby Eva. And maybe the Lincoln anecdote.

Now is not the place to downgrade the other candidates. We know that Anthony already had her day in coin. And that we already have a Roosevelt on the dime. And Oprah is still living. And Hillary hasn’t won yet.

Buddy, can you break a beecher? Not a bad ring to it.