“The obstinacy of cleverness and reason is nothing to the obstinacy of folly and inanity.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is brought up in almost every American History classroom when it comes time to discuss slavery, the abolitionist movement, and the Civil War. Raised in a religious—and yet surprisingly progressive—household, Stowe championed women’s rights and abolition throughout her career with the encouragement of her family and later, her husband—though Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains the defining work of her writing career.
It was as her career was winding down that Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Through her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, Samuel Clemens became acquainted with the family and—holding similar political beliefs—he decided he liked the family enough to want to be neighbors. Though the two writers were at different points in their careers and ran in very different circles, they seem to have enjoyed being neighbors. For bookworms of today, this is especially fortunate. When my friend and I arrived to tour the Mark Twain House and Museum, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to tour Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house as well (and at a discounted rate).
Just as the properties’ occupants ran in different circles, the tours of the two homes are markedly different as well. The Harriet Beecher Stowe house is far more interactive in its exhibits within the house, geared more towards school children and groups actively looking to examine the political issues closest to Stowe and draw parallels to the issues of today. With about eighty percent of the furnishings in the house having belonged to Stowe and her family—including a number of gorgeous floral paintings done by Harriet herself—the smaller scale of the Stowe house does not mean the tour is any shorter than you might find over at her neighbor’s.
In the main entertaining parlor, samples of documents related to slavery and the abolitionist movement are available for visitors to read through and discuss. In an upstairs bedroom are artifacts related to Uncle Tom’s Cabin—because the book was published before copyright laws were revised protecting Stowe’s rights as author, the merchandise on display helps to demonstrate the evolution of the “Uncle Tom” figure from her depiction in the novel through the unauthorized and purposefully altered adaptations that were used in minstrel shows and vaudevilles, twisting her vision to convey a contradictory figure to her original. There are also samples of the more pleasant gifts she received from some of her readers.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Visitor Center has books and materials available beyond Stowe’s works. Biographies of her contemporaries in the women’s rights and abolitionist movements can be purchased alongside the titles they wrote themselves and books on current political issues. The organization that runs the house offers a variety of tour options for groups—in addition to school trips, if seasonal and weather conditions cooperate there are also tours of Stowe’s gardens. Information for events and programs along with how and where donations should be made can all be found on the organization’s website. Admission for the tour is $10 for adults, $7 if you show your ticket from the Mark Twain House tour.