Uncle Tom's Cabin: Early and Notable Editions

From the 1879 Houghton, Osgood illustrated edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly

February 28, 2020 – February 28, 2022
National Museum of African American History and Culture
1400 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC
2nd Floor, Explore More! Gallery

There are varying opinions about the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, yet it is inarguably one of the most influential books in American history. Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) to inform readers of the appalling realities of American slavery, it was first published in March 1852. The novel quickly became an international bestseller, second only in sales at that time to the Bible.

This Smithsonian Libraries exhibit shows the early and notable editions of the novel in the library’s collection, as well as its interesting publishing history. First published by John P. Jewett & Company, it changed ownership among U.S. publishers at least four times before the copyright expired in 1893. Each publisher also attempted to capitalize on its popularity by publishing new and “special” editions, where new elements, illustrations, and commentary were added. As a result, the novel was a bestseller for well over 30 years after it was first published and has continued to inspire numerous other publications and works of art.