Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915


Introduction l True Womanhood l New Women l Growing Up Female l Political Women l Suffrage l Abolition l Women and War l Work Outside the Home l Cookery and Fancy-Work l Work Inside the Home l Mothering l Marriage l Marriage and Divorce l Regionalism l Travel l Bestsellers l Highlights l English 437: Students Research Rare Books





“Rise up, ye women that are at ease! Hear my voice, ye careless daughters!
Give ear unto my speech”

Women were extremely active participants in the war of words over slavery. Their contributions came in many forms – autobiographies, novels, essays, poems, songs, and plays. And as this section of the exhibit demonstrates, they spoke for both sides of the issue. In many instances, women’s anti-slavery writing was explicitly intended for female readers. This strategy was part of a larger effort to cultivate a transnational community of women who could wield their superior sense of morality and righteousness on behalf of those in need. Julia Ward Howe, for example, was among the founders of Mother’s Day, originally envisioned as an opportunity for women around the globe to unite in support of peace and justice.

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war”

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Illustrations by George Cruikshank.
London: John Cassell, 1852.
A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story is Founded. Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work.
Boston: John P. Jewett, 1853
a key to uncle tom's cabin; presenting the original facts and documents upon which the story is foundedWith:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Lantern Slides, ca. 1870.
British, set of 24.
Gift of Patrick Greig Scott.

Historians have never confirmed that Abraham Lincoln actually spoke the above words upon first meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe. But the popularity of the anecdote among nineteenth-century Americans is itself an indication of her novel’s huge impact. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the century’s highest seller after the Bible, selling several hundred thousand copies in its first year of publication. The novel spurred both antislavery and proslavery activism. Southerners accused Stowe of fabricating her claims about slavery’s abuses, and denounced her for inciting slave insurrection. In response, she published The Key documenting her claims and sources.
     After the war, Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a massive cultural industry. It generated songs, dances, and innumerable spin-off commodities, and was adapted repeatedly for stage and screen (the British lantern slides shown here are an early form of image projection, preceding film technology). Perversely, at the end of the nineteenth century Stowe’s anti-slavery novel was often treated as an expression of nostalgia for antebellum race relations and plantation culture – rather than a condemnation thereof.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896.

Dred; a Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp.
Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1856.

Stowe’s second anti-slavery novel is far more radical than the first, featuring a title character based on Nat Turner who nearly succeeds in organizing a slave insurrection. Stowe’s radicalism was due in part to the influence of black political leaders like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, with whom she met following the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She was also responding to increased sectional violence – such as the bloody assault by proslavery militants upon the freesoil community of Lawrence, Kansas; and the attack by South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks upon Massachusetts senator and antislavery activist Charles Sumner, on the U.S. Senate floor. Stowe fictionalized the latter event into her novel.

Anti-Tom Literature

Caroline Lee Hentz, 1800-1856.

Marcus Warland; or, The Long Moss Spring.
Philadelphia, T.B. Peterson & Brothers, 1869.
Collection of the South Caroliniana Library.

The Planter’s Northern Bride.

Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson, 1854.
mr and mrs moreland and albert
Hentz had much in common with Stowe; both grew up in Massachusetts and lived for a time in Cincinnati, even taking part in the same literary community there. But her novels idealized plantation slavery and southern culture with scenes such as the one illustrated here for the novel Marcus Warland. Hentz’s final work, The Planter’s Northern Bride, is an example of “anti-Tom” literature, produced in direct rebuttal to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Its lurid depiction of the unjust treatment of Northern wage laborers is posed in stark opposition to the “happy family” of slaveholders and slaves. “If this is freedom,” groans one of Hentz’s northern workers, “give us bondage instead.”


Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910.

Words for the Hour.
Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1856.

Best known today for writing the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Howe was widely read during the nineteenth century. This early collection includes poems on many subjects, including the wrongs of slavery and women’s rights. As this poem suggests, even anti-slavery writers sometimes portrayed blacks in patronizing – and even racist – terms. Here, a slave’s “eloquence” is reduced to a spectacle of mute and passive suffering.





“The country which he and they have served is still silent, while they stand waiting its verdict”

Rebecca Harding Davis, 1831-1910.

Waiting for the Verdict.
New York: Sheldon & Company, 1868.

Serialized in the literary periodical, The Galaxy, during the aftermath of the Civil War, this novel focuses on interracial relationships among slaves and slaveholders, and among Northern whites and free blacks. Davis sought to illustrate the emotional, familial, economic, and political intertwining of the two races. The “verdict” in question – how will the nation cope, in the years ahead, with the great challenge of racial justice?



Women’s Cross-Racial Collaborations

Sarah Hopkins Bradford, 1818-1912.

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman.
Auburn: W.J. Moses, 1869.

Harriet Jacobs (Linda Brent), 1813-1897.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself.
Edited by Lydia Maria Child.
Boston: Published for the Author, 1861.
Purchased from the Treasures Acquisitions Program with assistance from the University Women’s Club.

Lydia Maria Child, 1802-1880, Angelina Emily Grimké, 1805-1879, and Grace Douglass, 1782-1842.

An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States, issued by an Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women.
Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1838.
Collection of the South Caroliniana Library.
All three of these texts were produced by black and white women activists who worked together to end slavery. Sarah Bradford, a white educator and reformer, served as scribe to Harriet Tubman. Recording her experiences from the underground railroad, this book contributed to Tubman’s mythic status in U.S. culture. Harriet Jacobs’s autobiography detailing the horrors of slavery for women found its way to a publisher with help from editor and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child. Child was involved, as well, in writing the “Appeal” along with two fellow founders of the biracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society: Angelina Grimké, a white South Carolinian who emigrated North to fight slavery; and Grace Douglass, a Quaker abolitionist from a prominent African American family from New Jersey.

Next Page: Women And War


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