Her poetry has been collected in Complete Poems of Frances E. Harper , ed. Frances Smith Foster. She married Fenton Harper in He brought to the marriage three children of his own, and together they had a daughter. When her husband died in , Harper continued to support her family though speaking engagements. Harper was also the director of the American Association of Colored Youth.
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Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, born to free black parents, was orphaned by the age of three, and was raised by an aunt and uncle. She studied Bible, literature, and public speaking at a school founded by her uncle, William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth.
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At 14, she needed to work, but could only find jobs in domestic service and as a seamstress. She published her first volume of poetry in Baltimore about , Forest Leaves or Autumn Leaves , but no copies are now known to exist. Watkins moved from Maryland, a slave state, to Ohio, a free state in , the year of the Fugitive Slave Act. A new law in prohibited any free black persons from re-entering Maryland. In , she moved to Pennsylvania for a teaching job in Little York. The next year she moved to Philadelphia.
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During these years, she became involved in the anti-slavery movement and with the Underground Railroad. Her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, published in with a preface by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, sold more than 10, copies and was reissued and reprinted several times. Fenton died in , and Frances returned to lecturing, financing the tour herself and taking her daughter with her.
Frances Harper visited the South and saw the appalling conditions, especially of black women, of Reconstruction.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
She lectured on the need for equal rights for "the Colored Race" and also on rights for women. She joined the American Equal Rights Association and the American Women's Suffrage Association, working with the branch of the women's movement that worked for both racial and women's equality. In , a group of women gathered in connection with the World's Fair as the World's Congress of Representative Women. Harper joined with others including Fannie Barrier Williams to charge those organizing the gathering with excluding African American women.
Realizing the virtual exclusion of black women from the suffrage movement, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper joined with others to form the National Association of Colored Women. She became the first vice-president of the organization. Mary E. Harper never married, and worked with her mother as well as lecturing and teaching.
She died in McDowell, Beacon Press, , pp. Davis and J. Saun ders Redding, Houghton Mifflin, Montgomery, J. Harper , Sherman, Joan R. Hall, , pp. Still, William G. Williams, Kenny J.
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Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. African American writer, lecturer, abolitionist, and women's rights activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a notable voice in social reform in the nineteenth century.
She captivated black and white audiences alike with dramatic recitations of her antislavery and social reform verse. Dubbed the "Bronze Muse" in honor of her skills as both a writer and lecturer, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is regarded as one of the most extraordinarily accomplished African American women of the nineteenth century. She was, for example, a respected poet whose ten volumes of verse sold well enough to provide her with a modest income.
In , she became the first black woman to publish a short story. And her only novel, Iola Leroy; or Shadows Uplifted , was the first book by a black writer to depict the life of African Americans in the Reconstruction-era South. Many colleges and universities across the United States still feature it as part of their women's studies and black literature courses.
But it was as a lecturer that Harper had her greatest impact, beginning in the antebellum period as an antislavery activist and ending up as a crusader for women's rights and moral reform. Harper was born of free parents in September of , in Baltimore, Maryland. She was raised there by an aunt and uncle after being orphaned at an early age.
She attended a private school run by her uncle until she was 13, when she went to work as a housekeeper for a family that owned a bookstore. Harper's employer encouraged her to spend her free time reading and writing, and before long the young woman was composing her first poems and essays. Her first book, Forest Leaves also known as Autumn Leaves , a compilation of poetry and prose, was published about After leaving Maryland in , Harper taught school for a while in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It was in Pennsylvania that she became active in the Underground Railroad. She also launched her career as an antislavery lecturer during this period, traveling extensively throughout New England , New York , Ohio, and eastern Canada to speak as often as three or four times a day.
In an excerpt of what is believed to be the only surviving example of one of Harper's antislavery lectures, as quoted from Outspoken Women: Speeches by American Women Reformers, , Harper called for an end to slavery: "A hundred thousand newborn babes are annually added to the victims of slavery; twenty thousand lives are annually sacrificed on the plantations of the South.
Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins 1825–1911
Such a sight should send a thrill of horror through the nerves of civilization and impel the heart of humanity to lofty deeds. So it might, if men had not found out a fearful alchemy by which this blood can be transformed into gold. Instead of listening to the cry of agony, they listen to the ring of dollars and stoop down to pick up the coin.
The s proved to be a productive time for Harper, and in addition to her public speaking engagements, she also published several volumes of poetry. In much of her writing, Harper argued for social change and in support of her beliefs. One of her most critically acclaimed works, the abolitionist poem "Bury Me in a Free Land, " was published in in her popular book Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. This collection saw print in over 20 editions. Harper's verse is frankly propagandist, a metrical extension of her life dedicated to the welfare of others, " commented Joan R.
In , Harper married Fenton Harper, a farmer, and briefly retired from public speaking. The couple had one daughter, Mary. After her husband's death in , Harper returned to the lecture circuit. She also published what many critics believed to be her best work, Moses: A Story of the Nile, a collection of poems and an essay, under the name Mrs. Harper around this time. An extended biblical allegory written in blank verse and lacking overt racial references, Moses tells the story of the Hebrew patriarch by focusing on his self-sacrifice and leadership skills.
Harper maintains the pace of her long narrative and its tone of reverent admiration with scarcely a pause for moralizing. Moses is Mrs. Harper's most original poem and one of considerable power. Her top priority, however, was the race issue; while on a lengthy tour across the South during the late s and early s, she saw firsthand that former slaves endured conditions nearly as intolerable as those that had existed before the war. And as lynchings and other forms of racial intimidation became more commonplace, the lives of Southern blacks took on an increased sense of desperation. Consequently, like many of her fellow black activists, she felt that securing rights for women could wait until African Americans were guaranteed certain basic freedoms.
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