Thursday, October 16, 2014

Harriet's Desk

 It's an important desk. And it's nearby, in Oxford, Ohio.
 I was appraised of that fact by Jim Saylor, a fellow Miami University student, college buddy and life-long dear friend when a recent issue of The Miamian carried a story about a desk associated with Harriet Beecher Stowe.

 Tom Buhler and I toured the Miami campus on August 17 [click here] but the building that houses the Western College Alumnae Association was closed for a long weekend. I made a note to return.

Bill Schmidt and the desk 

 To be accurate, the desk wasn't owned by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was actually the desk of Gabriel Tichenor, a one-time Mississippi planter and slave owner who saw the sin in slavery, freed his slaves and moved to the Walnut Hills section of Cincinnati.

 The Stowe's lived in Cincinnati, too, and were friends and neighbors of the Tichenor's. Harriet Beecher Stowe is said to have written "a large portion" of Uncle Tom's Cabin at this very desk.

Another "Tom", Tom Buhler and the desk

 The desk was donated to The Western College for Women by the Tichenor family in the years following the Civil War. That followed the death of Gabriel Tichenor, an early benefactor and trustee of Western College for Women (originally called the Western Female Seminary). According to The Miamian article, "Tichenor was a good friend of the Rev. Daniel Tenney, founder of the seminary."

 The Miamian article goes on to explain how Harriet Beecher Stowe came to use the desk: "Hailing from New England, Mrs. Stowe knew little about the South, which is why, reportedly, she spent a great deal of time at the Tichenor's desk writing and editing while Mr. Tichenor critiqued her anti-slavery manuscript."

 Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, was one of the instigators of the Civil War. In fact, when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the White House in 1862, he is reported to have said, "So this is the little lady who started this great war." The quote, though, is now considered apocryphal.

The Western College Alumnae Association operates in the museum-like structure. I had written in advance asking whether I might view the desk. A quick reply from Debbie Baker said Patterson Place was open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm and that I was welcome to come.

 And so, on a beautiful autumn day, the trees alive with color, we enjoyed seeing the desk which had such an important part in American history.

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