Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Florida for Invalids": Why Do the Writers Feel That People Should Move to Florida
A memoir and travel guide written by Harriet Beecher Stowe about her winters in the town of Mandarin, Florida. Already famous for having written Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Stowe went to Florida after the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). She purchased a plantation near Jacksonville as a place for her son to recover from the injuries he had received as a Union soldier and to make a new start in life.
It took a visionary to sit down in the 1870s and write, “Florida is peculiarly adapted to the needs of people who can afford two houses,” but Harriet Beecher Stowe established herself as prescient long before that. Her Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought the evils of American slavery into the cultural conversation, fostering popular support of the Civil War. For Stowe personally, Uncle Tom’s Cabin made her something almost unimaginable in her time—a woman made wealthy and famous by her own labor. Calvin Stowe was a theology professor in Ohio and a widower when he married 24-year-old Harriet Beecher in 1836. He had warned his first wife that, “from my earliest youth my mind has been so entirely occupied by books that I have never learned the art of getting a living.” Calvin and Harriet Stowe went on to have seven children, and she began supplementing the family income with her pen years before the 1852 publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought financial security and, indeed, wealth. In 1866, Harriet made her first Florida real estate investment. In a sense, this was a consequence of the war; her son Frederic was a wounded veteran struggling with alcohol addiction, and she leased a cotton plantation for him to run, as a fresh start. Stowe became infatuated with Florida, buying a cottage in Mandarin across the St. Johns River from Frederick’s ill-fated plantation, which soon failed. In the ensuing years, she and Calvin took advantage of Florida’s suitability for people who can afford two homes, moving between Mandarin and Hartford, Connecticut.
By 1978, even hotel chains were getting involved, as the new Orlando Marriott promised to be ―a miniature theme park in itself (Shaffer, Marguerite S., 2001).‖ As the Christian Science Monitor reported that year, ―It used to be said that the best thing about Orlando is that it is surrounded by Florida; now, and not without justification, it is being suggested that the best thing about Florida is that it has Orlando at its heart. For the most part, though the beach still dominated Americans knowledge and perceptions of Florida. Tourism studies throughout the 1970s and 1980s showed that the beaches were the overwhelming reason people came to Florida, ranking only behind ―rest and relaxation‖ as a reason stated for visiting and followed by ―Florida Attractions.‖ Increasingly, those attractions likely meant either those in Orlando, or Busch Gardens in St. Petersburg. In 1982, one survey found that ―Many visitors and non-visitors lack information about the many faces of Florida‖ and that although Florida offered many different types of attractions as well as ―attractive and varied natural scenery. . . [t]hese are not recognized by many vacationers.‖ In 1990, the ten top counties visited, eight were coastal and the other two were Osceola and Orange—the Orlando area. A 1995 report found that ―Beaches are a significant, if not overwhelming, part of Florida‘s landscape and identity (Sho, Gerald, 1956).
To sum up, Stowe’s friends in Florida included Governor Harrison Reed and his wife Chloe Merrick Reed. The governor modernized Florida’s education system and appointed Stowe’s brother Charles Beecher as State Superintendent of Education. Both Mrs. Reed and another friend of Stowe’s, John Swain, were active abolitionists in Florida. Rather than aggressively promoting her political views, Stowe chose a more subtle approach to modernizing Florida. She helped to stimulate a growing tourism industry, and attracted progressive voters to the state by extolling the virtues of life in the sunshine surrounded by natural beauty.
Shaffer, Marguerite S. See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.
Sho, Gerald. "Ever See a Pink Whale?" All Florida Weekly Magazine, 8 July 1956, 3.
Shofner, Jerrell H. History of Apopka and Northwest Orange County, Florida. Apopka, Fla.: Apopka Historical Society, 1982.