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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The library’s new exhibit,Voices of the Civil War, features a number of famous literary works from the Rare Book Collections to tell the story of the American Civil War — from Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. One significant item on exhibit is a first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written partly in response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  The novel was published serially in the abolitionist newspaper “The National Era,” and ran for 40 weeks starting June 5, 1851.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form in March 1852 and sold some 300,000 copies in its first year in print.  The sentimental novel moved many readers and won acclaim from the abolitionists, but Stowe was heavily criticized by Southern readers and supporters of slavery.  In adding fuel to the debate over slavery, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was highly influential in the decade before the Civil War and eventually became an international best-seller.

Besides the edition on exhibit, Special Collections has a number of rare editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and popular adaptations of the novel. There are American, British, and Spanish editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, stage adaptations, and songs inspired by the novel.  Special Collections also owns first edition copies of Stowe’s A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book in which Stowe provided documentary evidence to corroborate the events of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the wake of Southern criticisms of her novel.

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