Cultural history includes the life stories and institutional patterns that are strongly suggestive of impulses underlying artistic production. While such material provides no hard and fast conclusions, the struggles of abolitionist writers for children have probative value. Only a minuscule number of writers who entered the children’s book field wrote antislavery tracts, and those who did rarely wrote a narrative or textbook that was not to some degree ambivalent in its attitude toward Blacks. What we need, then, is to probe the reasons why writers joined the emancipation cause, and why their works for children contained inner contradictions. The writers’ personal experiences vis-à-vis emancipation offer clues about their willingness to participate in a tempestuous, divisive cause.
An assumption of Anglo-Saxon superiority appears in the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) during her young adult years. In the children’s geography book that she coauthored with her sister, Catharine, she downgrades the character of American Indians, Spaniards, South Sea Islanders, the Chinese, and, to a lesser degree, the “southern races” of Europe. Harriet was twenty-two years old when this book was published.
Her home life may have been instrumental in her acquisition of such ethnocentric notions. Her father, Reverend Lyman Beecher, would not allow his sons to associate with Blacks. When the Trustees of Cincinnati’s Lane Seminary imposed a gag rule on antislavery discussions, Lyman Beecher (who was the seminary’s president) assented. Catharine Beecher was strongly opposed to abolitionism