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A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

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Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Hartford House is a Real Home

Apprentices at Stowe

The Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe House next door.

Lina Allam

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Upon entering the home of the famous author and wonderful mother Harriet Beecher Stowe, viewers can see the difference between a home and a house.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe home is nothing like the Mark Twain House. It depicts the nature of a woman who is both working on becoming one of the most elite authors of all time, and the typical wife and mother of her time.

Stowe had seven children, and only three outlived her. After the loss of her son Samuel Charles Stowe, who died at the age of two, she began understanding the feeling and emotion a mother felt when they saw their child sold into slavery.

Her son’s death became the inspiration for one of the most famous novels of all time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was widely read, becoming the second best seller of the time, second only to the Bible.

This novel portrayed slavery in its truest form instead of portraying the political and economic side of the inhumane act. Stowe portrays slavery as an inhuman, horrific act that must end.

She describes events in the novel as she saw them in real life. Because this novel received worldwide attention, it helped strengthen the abolitionist movement.

The Duchess of Southerland was so inspired by this novel that she traveled all over Europe gathering over millions of signatures from women who agreed with abolitionists and encouraged them to continue their work.

Stowe wrote 30 books in 30 years, and completed multiple paintings, including some of magnolias, since she said this flower was like her: strong in the roots.

Today the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, where Stowe retired, is a museum dedicated to the works of this acclaimed author.

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Stowe’s Skillful Balancing Act

Stowe house, Cecilia.2

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home on Forest Street in Hartford, Conn.
Photo by Cecilia Gigliotti

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born June 14, 1811, was always a balancer.

From the day this great American novelist was born until she died on July 1, 1896, she was always searching for a way to balance her work with other important things.

Whether it was finding a way to spend more time with her children, paint, or work on her now-world-famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe always strived for a balance.  She sought a way to do her best in anything and everything she did.

This author is not only known for her book which changed the face of America forever, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but other bestselling novels such as Oldtown Folks and The Minister’s Wooing.

As most Americans probably know already, Uncle Tom’s Cabin expressed Stowe’s opposition to slavery. Not all people in Stowe’s time agreed with this view, however, and she became despised by many.

This hatred never stopped her from writing. Stowe enjoyed the craft; she wrote her entire life, from childhood until her death.

Stowe sometimes used writing as a way to escape her life when things got rough. Her beautiful Connecticut mansion wasn’t always a place of comfort as it is talked about. She lost more than one of her children at a young age and used her writing as a way to deal with the sadness.

She enjoyed art almost as much as she enjoyed her writing.  Her paintings are prominently displayed at her home in Hartford, Connecticut, where she moved with her husband and children in 1873.

This extraordinary woman was not only the author of 30 books – one containing advice for homemakers – but a painter in her free time. She did most of this hobby painting while visiting her winter home in Mandarin, Florida. Connecticut became too cold for the Stowe family during the winter, so they spent the season in their Florida home.

It’s obvious to visitors that Stowe enjoyed painting landscapes. The decorated hallways of her estate are lined with her art. All the way from portraits to a number of still life paintings, Stowe did it all.

In the front parlor of her home, sophisticated pastels of garden life and country homes adorn the walls.

The home also includes paintings by at least one of Stowe’s daughters, who were aspiring artists like their mother.

The front parlor is the space where the Stowe’s guests would be entertained in the evenings. It is also the space where Stowe herself did most of her writing, at a small wooden desk tucked away in a corner.

Her husband Calvin, a professor of religion, had his own study in the upstairs of their home, tucked between the bedrooms. Despite the fact that Stowe was wildly more successful than he, she was reduced to a microscopic desk in the family living room.

Stowe made more than $1,000 on her first novel. In her time it was unusual for the woman of the house to make more money than the man, however Stowe’s husband was very supportive of her career.

Stowe’s family spent time together in the back parlor of her home. This room included many extravagant decorations, including a painting given to Stowe by a duchess who was a big fan of Stowe’s work.

Stowe was sometimes forced to give up time when she could be working on her art to pursue other things. After all, she did have seven children. This did not stop her from becoming a great American novelist, a role model for writers and an icon for all people.

Stowe, who expertly balanced her work and busy family life in her marvelous Hartford home, will forever have an impact on our world.

Stowe’s Home is Welcome Contrast to Twain’s Mansion

Stowe House, Cecilia photo

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford / Cecilia Gigliotti

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

A tour of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house is a nice antidote to the excessive grandeur and lurid extravagance of her Nook Farm neighbor, Mark Twain.

That’s not to say that her home was by any means plain or unimpressive; it was merely more reflective of the prolific, independent-minded woman who lived there.

I ought to preface this with a caveat: I knew almost nothing about Stowe before I toured the home in which she spent the last 23 years of her life. People in every region of the world are reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in one of the 60 languages it’s been translated into over the years.

I live in the country of its origin, and although I’ve learned about its historical significance, I’ve never actually read it.

I now know a bit more about Stowe than I did before visiting her home, but any statement I make about her character will be brash and highly uninformed.

From what I know of her, I like her quite a bit more than I like Twain. She was from a different generation, and unlike Twain, she was born into a prominent and well-off family, so she lacked the outsider complex that may have led Twain to overcompensate with gaudy furniture and an excessive amount of décor.

Stowe was born into a family of 11 children in Litchfield, Conn. in 1811. Her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, wanted all of his children to be educated to the same level, regardless of gender. All of Stowe’s brothers became preachers, and Stowe attended, and later taught at, the Hartford Female Seminary.

Her father’s principles might have been what led her to be a supporter of women’s rights.

She believed that women were society’s architects, and she encouraged women to take ownership of their households. This is perhaps why she only had two servants at a time, as opposed to Twain, who had about a dozen servants.

She was considered a “Martha Stewart” of her time, and published books about homemaking. Her expertise in this area showed in every room of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In the 19th century, gardening was the only science that women could practice, so of course Beecher practiced it to the fullest extent possible. She kept ivy in the bedroom, in order to bring more oxygen in the house.

Her love of plants and flowers showed not only in her garden and bedroom, but also in her many paintings throughout the house. She painted wildflowers as well as magnolias, and identified with the magnolias’ strength and toughness.

While the house itself is smaller and less elaborate than the Twain House, both houses had a few of the same showy affectations. For instance, the nicest and largest bedroom in both houses was the guest room. Both writers probably wanted their guests to feel welcome and appreciated, but it’s likely that they also wanted to show off their wealth.

It’s not entirely fair for me to evaluate the character of these authors based off of their homes; at least, they can’t be evaluated to the same degree. Stowe lived in her Nook Farm house at the end of her life, while Twain had his house built as he was becoming an established literary figure.

Stowe lived in seven houses before moving to Nook Farm, and while she was living in Hartford, she had another home in Florida where she spent her winters. She went on three tours of Europe, and brought home two Raphael paintings.

She by no means lived humbly, and yet I can’t help but feel like she was a more down-to-earth person than Twain. Her husband, Calvin Stowe, encouraged her to keep her real name as her pen name. He believed it was important for everyone to know that she was “a literary woman,” and this might be why she seems more sensible and less fantastical than Twain.

Like Twain, Stowe used her own experiences to help her writing. She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin after her 18-month-old son Samuel Charles died of cholera.  After losing him, she said she understood what mothers must feel when they lose their children to the slave trade. Like Twain, fewer than half of her children survived her.

But perhaps I was overly critical of Twain. He didn’t grow up with the same educational advantages or privileges as Stowe, and maybe he couldn’t help it if he didn’t have the same level of comfort with his identity as she did.

According to our tour guide, Stowe was Twain’s mentor. I’d rather imagine that they were close friends. In my fantasy world, Twain would bring lemonade and biscuits to Stowe’s front porch. The two would discuss politics, travelling, art, and Nook Farm gossip, making snarky comments about their neighbors passing by on Forest Street.

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