Reflection: Examining Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Contributions to Children’s Literature

June 15, 2023

By Erika Arredondo-Haskins
Dreeben School of Education, PhD Candidate
Women’s and Gender Studies, Graduate Research Assistant

While most are familiar with Harriett Beecher Stowe’s famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, you may not be aware of her published works in children’s literature. Recently, I had the opportunity to present at the 34th Annual American Literature Association Conference, held at the Westin Copley Place in Boston, Massachusetts. It was an exciting event where I had the honor of presenting alongside Dr. LuElla D'Amico, the director of the Women's and Gender Studies program at the University of the Incarnate Word. In addition to our presentation on Stowe’s book Little Pussy Willow, Dr. D’Amico organized and moderated a job market roundtable and presented “On Being Glad: Pollyanna and Stoic Thought,” in collaboration with Dr. Gregory Eiselein, an English professor at Kansas State University.

Our presentation focused on the captivating world of Harriet Beecher Stowe's children's literature, with a specific emphasis on the research, transcription, and analysis of Stowe's lesser-known book, Little Pussy Willow. The title of our presentation was "Little Pussy Willow: The Bright Side of Editing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Children's Novel," reflecting our exploration of this fascinating work.

Dr. D'Amico and Dr. Robin Cadwallader, an English professor and chair of Literature and Languages at St. Francis University, have been commissioned as contributing editors for Stowe’s children literature for The Collected Works of Harriet Beecher Stowe, published by Oxford University Press. Dr. Cadwallader also serves as the director of the Women's Studies program at St. Francis University.

During our presentation, we delved into the significance of Little Pussy Willow within Stowe's body of work and explored its themes, style, and historical context. We also highlighted the importance of shedding light on this overlooked piece of children's literature to gain a deeper understanding of Stowe's writing and its impact on society.

Little Pussy Willow explores the contrast between wealth and poverty, emphasizing the values of contentment and selflessness. It is a delightful tale, beautifully illustrated, and carries a wholesome message that will resonate with girls today. Stowe's depiction of New England country-life is unparalleled. The protagonist, a young girl born in the rustic back-country amidst hills, receives magical gifts from Mother Fern, little Mistress Liverwort, and Pussy Willow, reminiscent of fairies from old tales. The last gift, "the ability to always see the bright side of everything," shapes her into a helpful and optimistic individual, a shining example of the best qualities nurtured in that happy corner of the world. As her coming-of-age becomes overshadowed by the turmoil of the Civil War, she contributes to the war effort and shows that women served as valiantly as their male counterparts.

The national conference provided an excellent platform for sharing our research and engaging in thought-provoking discussions with fellow scholars in the field of literature and gender studies. The audience's response was encouraging, as they appreciated our efforts to bring attention to an underappreciated aspect of Harriet Beecher Stowe's contributions to children's literature.

It was a rewarding experience to collaborate with Dr. D'Amico on the research, transcription, and analysis of Little Pussy Willow and to present our findings at the ALA Conference. This opportunity allowed us to contribute to the ongoing scholarship surrounding Harriet Beecher Stowe and to further promote the exploration of women's literature and gender studies in academia.