Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Harriet Beecher Stowe in Disney World

David Goldfield's America Aflame: How The Civil War Created a Nation comes into its own when he arrives at the end of the Civil War. He does an excellent job painting the dizzying array of technical, business and cultural developments and distractions that led northerners, always thinly committed to anti-slavery, so quickly to turn away from the War, the south and the problems of the freedmen.

Goldfield employs Harriet Beecher Stowe as a symbol of the transformation:
She moved to Florida. Stowe came to teach former slaves to read and write and stayed to promote Florida real estate. She coauthored a book with her sister Catharine, The American Woman's Home (1869), which served as the middle-class bible for home design through World War I.
Harriet began the book even before the end of the War, correctly sensing correctly that the war-weary public would prefer to read about home decoration. "Her first essay on the subject, 'Ravages of a Carpet,' appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1864."

Applauding William Lloyd Garrison's decision to withdraw from the American Anti-Slavery Society shortly after the War, Harriet concluded that the end of slavery was enough. Harriet was in Disney World:
Florida's exotic environment captivated Stowe. When she arrived on the banks of the St. Johns River in north Florida in February 1867, the orange blossoms were in bloom. She immediately "stripped off the woolen garments of my winter captivity, put on a thin dress white skirt . . . & sat down to enjoy the view of the river & the soft summer air." At this desk, Stowe wrote a breezy account of her early experiences in Florida, Palmetto Leaves (1873), describing her work with the freedmen, but mostly promoting Florida tourism and offering advice on growing citrus trees.

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