Monday, August 10, 2009

Harriet Beecher Stowe fought for women's rights as well as for the abolition of slavery

Most have heard of her famous novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which people all over the world read and is credited with being the novel that did the most for the cause for freeing the slaves. But I did not know until I read this book how she often entwined the 'slavery of women' with the the slavery of the black race. At that time women did not yet have the vote and she struggled mightily to compete with the men as a writer. She also wrote about the enslavement of women in marriage where they were forced to wear themselves out in constant child bearing no matter how much work they had to do to keep up with the children they already had. In fact her husband had to order her home one time when she had managed to stay away months, but she said that she just did not feel well enough to go home and get pregnant. She had already had a number of children and miscarriages by then. Sure enough when she finally did go home, she became pregnant immediately.
Her own mother had died at the age of 41 of tuberculosis after bearing her minister husband, Lyman Beecher, ten children, plus taking in boarders. Excessive child bearing and overwork surely sapped her good health, because on the whole this was a very hardy bunch of people.
In fact, I would say that Harriet Beecher Stowe still has advanced views on Women's Rights which surpass those of today, putting the blame of constant pregnancy squarely on some mighty forceful husbands instead of somehow making it seem like it is the fault of the little invader in the womb. Her father was a minister and she always preached Christianity, which surely helped her to become immensely popular, not only here but in England, which had already outlawed slavery and was trying to influence America to outlaw it too. The churches were a lot more powerful then than they are today.
The rise of legalized abortion has dealt Christianity a mighty blow not only here but in England, even in Italy, the home of the Catholic Church. We will have to defeat that as being focused on the wrong thing and making women look bad with a resort to violence to solve an age old problem, unwanted pregnancy. Legalized abortion is a fast fix compared to fighting unfair men, men who would keep women down forever if possible. I am sure that is what Harriet Beecher Stowe would say were she alive today, being the stalwart Christian that she was. I think she would agree that progress at the price of death for the fetus is not progress. It is just going the wrong way for women down the difficult road to control one's very life and health. The sacrifice of the child is not acceptable for the mother who is the child's first protector. Yet, for years we have focused on the child as the problem, while the real problem lies in the relationship between man and woman. To agree to sacrifice the child puts the woman into a brutal category in regard to her child, similar to what exists in many cases between a man and a woman. Now we have the problem of trying to persuade women that brutality toward their unborn children is not a good solution. We cannot sacrifice what it means to be a mother putting her child's welfare first at all costs.
I remember how hard I thought about how I could live in a marriage with a husband prone to violence and still not have a child when I didn't think I was strong enough to take care of it. My health was impaired, so I felt that I had to resist pregnancy at all costs after the trauma I endured from him with my first child since I as a Christian and did not believe in abortion. I remember what a battle I fought for months to get my young husband to accept no penetration sex. He had never heard of such a thing. I said, no, because I am probably the first women in history to think it up and use it after marriage. I reminded him over and over that he had made my life hell while I was pregnant, to the point I left him. I came back because I could not live in my parents' home and listen to their terrible wars indefinitely, and I was too impaired to work and take care of a baby, too. I tried that, but my nerves were so tattered I did not last any time alone in an apartment by myself. I had to call my mother and ask her to take me to her home. I finally decided that if my husband who was asking for me to come back would agree to the kind of sex I specified I would return.
Harriet Beecher Stowe nor her mother I am sure would have had no way to back up that request. Too many pregnancies were their lot whether they were risking their very lives or not. Harriet's mother died young, so Harriet always kept that in mind, as she took her many trips, I am sure to forestall too frequent pregnancies as much as anything. She also wrote to establish her own independence. In fact, in later years she became the main breadwinner. She also expressed the thought that some of her children conceived and born under great stress simply were not as strong as the ones she had when she was able to space them better.
I used to be horrified at women who were at the mercy of husbands who kept them constantly pregnant. We have to face as Harriet Beecher Stowe forthrightly did that brutality, force, and intimidation can keep women barefoot and pregnant for years.
I decided another book called "Brainwash to Hogwash" was just too disturbing to review which is about the child bearing in a polygamist commune written by a very tough woman who escaped after a horrific childhood in polygamy. I would probably not be rewarded for writing about such harsh facts. And because we tend to think those things don't exist outside of aberrent life styles like polygamy.
But Harriet Beecher Stowe still has something to say to women, even though she lived back in the days of the civil war which is why this book, so well written by Joan Hedrick, kept me riveted until the very end. I admire her even more now that I have read about her life.
She was probably the most famous novelist in the world at one point. I envy her that some, but times are hard. I don't expect fame, as it would likely kill me in short order. She had to be a woman of iron strength to deal with hers. But many many other women will never be famous either because too many of them will be too abused to rise to those heights, and far too many of them will be murdered.


Amrita said...

She was a great woman. I did not know so much about her

Paula said...

Interesting entry Gerry. It has been so many years since I read "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

LaRena said...

Very interesting review of the work of an exceptional novelist. She certainly was ambitious to tackle such difficult things in her day. Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of my favorite novels when i was in my teens. i remember crying over some of the scenes. She surely made the slavery conditions come alive for many. i didn't know she was a woman's advacate too.


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