The Child

With the acceleration of the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the foundation of the U.S. economy shifted from agriculture to manufacture. As the American workplace moved from the home to the factory and office, individual members of the family, namely the wife and children, lost their economic value as laborers. At the same time Americans' perception of childhood moved from a Calvinist view of inherent depravity to an Enlightenment-environmentalist view of the infant as a blank slate, to be written upon, for good or bad, by the mother.

Panegyrics devoted to the precious child are easy to find among the gift book and periodical literature of the mid-nineteenth century. As motherhood came to be understood "as a qualitative rather than a quantitative activity, useful to society for the kind of child rather than the numbers of children it produced,"1 a child's moral and physical character became a focal point of attention, and a means of measuring a mother's success. The end product of domestic manufacture, once homespun and other goods, was now the child.

| The Special Child |
The notion of the "special child" developed out of this trend. Although infant mortality within the middle class was in decline, dealing with the death of a child remained a fact of life for many if not most mothers throughout the middle years of the nineteenth century. In part, no doubt, as a means of coping with this reality, there appeared in the literature of the time a child "marked out from other children by a precocious spirituality and unusual goodness" who was "known by these signs to be designed for an early death."2

It is this idea of the "special child" that informed Stowe's depiction of Eva, this same notion applied to her own life which caused her to write, after the death of Charley, "the most beautiful and most loved"3 of her children, "Is there not something brighter & better around them than around those who live - Why else in so many households is there a tradition of one brighter more beautiful more promising than all the rest, laid early low."4

1. Kathryn Kish Sklar, "Victorian Women and Domestic Life: Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe;" in The Public and the Private Lincoln. As quoted in Elizabeth Ammons, "Stowe's Dream of the Mother-Savior" p. 160.

2. Nina Baym, Woman's Fiction A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America 1820-70, p. 15.

3. Boydston, Kelly, Margolis, The Limits of Sisterhood, p. 178.

4. HBS to Sarah Allen, December 2, 1850. As quoted in Joan Hedrick, Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Life, p. 192.