Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life
So you’re the little woman who started this big war,” Abraham Lincoln is said to have quipped when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin converted readers by the thousands to the anti-slavery movement and served notice that the days of slavery were numbered. Overnight Stowe became a celebrity, but to defenders of slavery she was the devil in petticoats.
The life story of Harriet Beecher Stowe—woman of faith, fascinating Civil War figure, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Most writing about Stowe treats her as a literary figure and social reformer while downplaying her Christian faith. But Nancy Koester’s biography highlights Stowe’s faith as central to her life — both her public fight against slavery and her own personal struggle through deep grief to find a gracious God. Having meticulously researched Stowe’s own writings, both published and un-published, Koester traces Stowe’s faith pilgrimage from evangelical Calvinism through spiritualism to Anglican spirituality in a flowing, compelling narrative.
Read the excerpt here.
Nancy Koester has taught religion and church history at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and at Augsburg College, Minneapolis. An ordained Lutheran minister and a spiritual director, she has also written Journeying through Lent with Luke and Fortress Introduction to the History of Christianity in the United States.
The Gospel Coalition
“Phenomenal. . . . A marvelous introduction to everything from the history of the Western Reserve and Ohio Valley to the nature of antebellum sectionalism and political conflict to the often-contested ground of gender roles in American culture.”
Stone Campbell Journal
“Koester succeeds admirably in producing an engaging narrative in which Stowe remains a dynamic woman both a product of her context and a person who sought the deepest possible relationship with God.”
“Koester’s detailed narrative offers a more comprehensive and theologically sophisticated picture of Stowe’s developing religious views. Exhaustively researched and engagingly written.”
James M. McPherson
— Pulitzer Prize winner for The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
“The daughter, sister, and wife of prominent clergymen and theologians, Harriet Beecher Stowe outshone them all in her impact on American religion and reform. Her life and work were framed by a spiritual quest that led from her ancestral Calvinism to high-church Episcopalianism and even spiritualism. Nancy Koester’s lucid narrative and penetrating analysis carry the reader along unfailingly on this fascinating quest.”
— Pulitzer Prize winner for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
“It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was in her lifetime the most famous and influential woman in the United States, bar none. But she has been largely forgotten today. Nancy Koester’s comprehensive biography brings Stowe’s personal story to life for a new generation while re-creating the fierce religious and cultural battles that inspired her to write the Great American Novel that helped turn the course of American history.”
Booklist (STARRED review)
“The subject of this accessible and absorbing interpretive biography was perhaps the most famous American woman of the nineteenth century. . . . Koester engagingly and intelligently discusses each major novel, each family crisis, each journey, and each spiritual change, including a fluctuating interest in spiritualism after the deaths of two of her sons, without a whiff of academic fustiness. A top-notch read.”
Choice (American Library Association)
“This biography by Koester provides a well-versed, comprehensive account of the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. . . . Koester balances Stowe’s literary and social work alongside concise reflections on her religious and spiritual changes. . . . Recommended.”
Congregational Libraries Today
“A fascinating biography of the abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . Koester presents all the facts of Stowe’s life in a volume that is scholarly and extremely well annotated, yet written in a lively style.”
“Nancy Koester’s superb biography portrays Stowe in all her varying colors, from the fiery hues of the abolitionist reformer to the soft pastels of the fully engaged mother and wife.”
“Koester has accessibly translated an exemplary 19th-century life for a 21st-century audience. Her Stowe is a women to be admired and emulated but who also is recognizable to today’s readers in her struggles to find a balance between her work and her spiritual life.”
Fides et Historia
“One of the strengths of this biography is Koester’s adeptness at conveying the experiences and emotions that shaped Stowe’s devotional life and faith-informed activism. . . . Koester’s writing is accessible and she encourages the reader to identify with her subject. Her sympathetic portrayal of Stowe’s inner life dares the reader to ask how they would confront the same questions she faced. This quality makes the book a helpful introduction to the time period or a good springboard for undergraduate class discussions.”
Anglican and Episcopal History
“Koester’s study provides a model analysis of life-long growth in faith and grace.”
“Presents readers with a woman who used what she had in skills and position to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. Readers will be rewarded for reading this biography.”
Journal of Southern History
“Koester’s often intimate portrait of Stowe’s spirituality is both engagingly and clearly written . . . . General audiences interested in Stowe’s religious life will likely enjoy Koester’s account of Stowe’s spiritual journey and learn something about nineteenth-century American history in the process.”