Harriet Beecher Stowe fits the bill

Harriet Beecher Stowe fits the bill

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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.

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.

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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