Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The Smile of One's Father the Highest Honor

Harriett Elizabeth Beecher Stowe
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) is probably the most influential woman in American history. Sadly, few are familiar with the woman many Americans once considered the equivalent in fame to the Queen of England.

Born Harriet Elizabeth Beecher, and called "Hattie" as a child, Harriett was the daughter of Lyman Beecher, a famous American preacher of his day, and the sister to Henry Ward Beecher, an influential abolitionist pastor. Harriett would later marry a pastor, Calvin Stowe, and she would bear sons who also became pastors.

Hattie's father, Lyman Beecher, moved from Connecticut to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832 to become the president of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. Harriett Elizabeth Beecher, 21 years of age at the time, followed her father to Cincinnati. Both Lyman and Harriett Beecher became friends with my great-great grandfather Charles T. Cherry, who was the western agent for the American Sunday School Union and ran a book store and publishing house in downtown Cincinnati near the Ohio River. At the time my grandfather knew Harriet Beecher, she worked as a writer/reporter for the Cincinnati newspaper. While in Cincinnati, Harriett met and fell in love with Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor and ardent abolitionist. The two were married in 1836 and they remained married for the next 50 years, until Calvin's death.

Just across the Ohio River which runs through downtown Cincinnati was the slave state  of Kentucky. Harriett was first exposed to the institution of slavery on her visits to Kentucky. In Cincinnati, she also heard first-person accounts from former slaves who had escaped slave using the Underground Railroad. Harriett began to write about the sinfulness and awfulness of slavery, becoming a well-known advocate for the abolition of slavery.

In 1850, Calvin accepted a teaching position at Bowdoin College in Maine, and Calvin and Harriett moved from Cincinnati to Brunswick, Maine. That same year (1850), Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced northerners, under penalty of law, to return runaway slaves to their southern owners. It was the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which prompted Harriett Beecher Stowe to write the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Stowe’s gripping portrayal of the horrors of racial slavery captured the nation. Abolitionists embraced the book as their manifesto, but those desiring slavery cursed both the book and its author. Abolitionists quickly wrote screen plays of Uncle Tom's Cabin and put the story on stage, with the characters of Tom, Eva and Topsy becoming American icons.

During the height of the Civil War, Harriett traveled to Washington  where she met with President Abraham Lincoln. A popular story about the meeting has the President greeting Harriett with these words: “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” While little is known about the actual meeting, it is without doubt that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the major sources of the national conflict over slavery.

Harriett Beecher Stowe would receive accolades throughout her life and in the decades after her death. The Harriett Beecher Stowe Center in Connecticut is dedicated to keeping her life and legacy alive. The Harriett Beecher Stowe House in Maine, where Hattie wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a museum and bookstore that honor the life of a great American woman.

Harriett Beecher Stowe's greatest honor, however, came when she was twelve years old. It happened when she was still in Connecticut, prior to moving to Cincinnati. It was Harriett's first and most rewarding honor. 

When Harriet was eleven, she wrote her first essay. She would later recall how astonished she was at the ease in which she could place in writing her thoughts.  Writing came naturally to her, and she soon began to write for fun.  Even as a child, she would write for hours at a time, and would later go back to what she had written, making revisions as necessary. 

Her first honor and award for writing came after a year of practice writing, when she was all of telve years of age. The students at the Litchfield Academy, where Harriett attended school in Connecticut, were required to submit essays at the end of the school year. The grand prize was for the winning paper to be read aloud by the headmaster at the graduation exercises. 

In 1823, the grand prize was awarded by a unanimous vote of the Litchfield Academy judges to a document entitled Can the Immortality of the Soul Be Proved by the Light of Nature? Reading the twenty-five hundred words aloud, the headmaster kept the audience in rapt attention with the logical and easy to understand narrative on nature's evidence of man's immortality. When the headmaster finished, the audience exploded in applause. 

Then, to the shock of the students and parents in attendance, the headmaster announced that the winner of the the essay contest was 12-year-old Harriet Elizabeth Beecher. 

Harriett turned and glanced at her father when her name was announced, and would later say she never forgot the proud and delightful smile on her father's face as he stood with others and applauded. Time dissipated Hattie's memory of that day; everything but the memory of her father's smile. Toward the end of her life, Harriett reflected on this experience as a 12-year-old and said to her friends: 
"My father's smile is the highest honor I have ever received."
Any of us fathers would do well to remember this anecdote of Harriett Elizabeth Beecher Stowe, and be quick to share a smile with our children, knowing that though they may become highly honored and famous in America, it is the smile of one's father that is their highest honor. 


Christiane said...

Thank you for sharing this, WADE. It is interesting about your family's connection to the Beechers.
I was looking on the web trying to locate the little essay that Stowe wrote when she was twelve and came upon this:
" Her writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin was precipitated by two events, one in her personal life and one in the public arena. In 1849 her sixth child, Samuel Charles, died in a cholera epidemic in Cincinnati. Cholera was a relatively new disease in the Western hemisphere and inspired dread partly for that reason and partly because it was so deadly Three thousand people died in Cincinnati in the epidemic of 1849. We know today that cholera is spread by dirty water, but the germ theory of disease was not at that time understood. To people in the nineteenth century it was an act of God, a biblical plague. When Charley fell ill, Harriet wrote to Calvin that she had little hope of his recovery. There was no medical intervention available at the time, and all Harriet could do was watch helplessly while her eighteen-month-old child was wracked by convulsions and lost all the fluids in his body. She later wrote that there were circumstances of such bitterness in the manner of Charley's death that she didn't think she could ever be reconciled for it unless his death allowed her to do some great good to others. She also wrote that losing Charley made her understand what a slave woman felt when her child was taken away at the auction block.
The year following Charley's death Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law."

there is a picture of her dead child in the article ... here is the link:

I am always moved by the human side of history. My own family has letters from the 1800's and I was privileged to read one by a wounded great uncle who sent word that he wished for the family to make him a suit of clothes from a woolen blanker . . . the humility of his writing is heart-breaking.

The diaries and letters of the past tell us so much more than the dry listing of events and dates and places that most history students encounter. Thanks again for sharing this.

Wade Burleson said...

Great information, Christiane. Thank you!

Rex Ray said...


WOW! That lady was some lady!

I believe Jesus thought his highest honor was:

“A voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17 NLT)

Rex Ray said...


Black Lives Matter Harassment In Houston
August 4, 2016 By John Gibbs

Rohini Sethi, vice president of the Student Government Association at University of Houston, has been suspended from that position, barred from participating in SGA activities, required to attend various diversity workshops, and must write a letter how wrong she was. She is black.

Her offense was posting on Facebook: “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter.”

The Black Student Union at the University of Houston called for Sethi’s suspension from student government, and her removal from that body. The story has gained nationwide attention.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is not actually focused on saving black lives. In Chicago alone, 65 people were killed in July, making it the deadliest July in five years. At least three-quarters of those victims were black, and almost all were killed by blacks. Nationwide, blacks kill around 5,500 blacks every year.

Is BLM organizing protests and blocking freeways to combat the epic problem of black crime?

What about black education underachievement ,the thug culture infecting black communities, and the massive problem of single motherhood? Seventy percent of black kids are born out of wedlock, even though studies clearly show that children from married, two-parent homes have better outcomes.

Why the silence from BLM? If they were truly interested in helping black people, they’d be the leading edge of fighting for all of these issues. So why aren’t they?

The reaction to Sethi reveals universities, social media sites, and the mainstream media are increasingly shutting out the voices of those who go against left-wing ideology. The acceptable discourse is not truthfulness, but whether certain groups might be offended.

Groups that must not be offended are: racial minorities, gays, immigrants, and Muslims. Groups who do not have the right to be offended are: whites, Christians, and conservatives.

Rather than be force-fed diversity training and write an apology letter for a crime you did not commit, tell them you will not do it, and you did nothing wrong. Document your experiences and share them across the nation. You might have a legal case against the university.

Use this as an opportunity to advocate for free expression and exchange of ideas. That’s what universities are supposed to be about in the first place.

Christiane said...

since the Incarnation of Our Lord, all of humankind matters and that includes black folks, most especially all people who have been kicked to the margins of our world and who are most dear to the heart of Our Lord.

Why the Incarnation?
this may help to understand it:

it is said in the Church that Our Lord reconciles us to God AND to each other and I believe this to be true and to be a part of the Gospel itself.

Christiane said...

Hi Rex Ray,
I was also going to say that Harriett Beecher Stowe found, in the suffering of black mothers whose children were sold away, the same broken hearts that she possessed when she lost her little Charlie at eighteen months of age. That 'empathy' breaks through divisions like skin color and differences in doctrines, and differences in all kinds of orientations. That 'empathy' brings us to a place of humility and grace where it is possible to see others as deserving of our compassion and our loving-kindness.

If Harriett Beecher Stowe opposed slavery, she did it out of love and out of a great loss shared by all grieving mothers on Earth.

'and a sword shall pierce your heart': ALL grieving mothers, yes

Rex Ray said...


Congratulations! I don’t know if you see “Closer” on TV or not, but on the last 10 post of Wade’s, you and I qualify as the “Closer” since we’ve made the last comment on six and second to last on nine.

Rex Ray said...


“"The Smile of One's Father the Highest Honor"

Well said!

When our children were small, our group worked on a church near New York. At their Wednesday night service, the pastor asked a member to give his testimony.

He’d been working with us. He was a small quite man that hadn’t talked at all and I wasn’t expecting much. As he began to talk, his personality changed. He was like a boxer dancing around getting ready for a fight. His face and eyes seem to glow.

He said, “I’d been a Christian most of my life but when I realized I was about to die, I said “Lord, I trust Jesus as my Savior.” For a while I could see myself on an operating table with doctors and nurses around. Then I was going through space and heard the most beautiful music I can’t describe. Then I was in the presence of a person that made me feel wonderful. He was smiling. But I was snatched away. My wife was saying she loved me and our children needed me. The doctors had told her I was trying to die and asked her to talk with me. I’ll never fear death again.”