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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
(September 24, 1825 - 1911) U.S.A.

Frances E. W. Harper

Poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, feminist, and abolitionist


Born to a free black woman and unknown father, her life and work shine light on that period of American history after the Civil War that cruelly combined progress and goodness, racist backsliding and fear.

In an era where it was deemed unseemly, if not shocking, for an unmarried, young woman, black or white, to address mixed audiences of men and women, the Maine Antislavery Society helped launch a lifelong career, when, in 1854, they hired Frances Ellen Watkins, at age 29, to speak on their behalf. A radical antebellum abolitionist, Miss Watkins preached and practiced the politics of Free Produce, urging economic boycotts of slave-produced goods.

Watkins helped collect donations for the Underground Railroad and befriended Frederick Douglass, William Still, John Brown, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman.

She married Fenton Harper in November 1860, and they later had one child, Mary. Four years later, upon the death of her husband, and unprotected by civil law, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper needed to make a living to support her daughter and herself. She resumed her writing in grueling speaking tours in the South dedicated to suffrage, women's education, and particularly the welfare and elevation of newly freed black women.

In the 1890s she gained a national reputation for her brilliant speeches and organizing for the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the National Assocation of Colored Women.

Long recognized as the most popular black poet prior to Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Mrs. Harper also wrote Iola Leroy (1892), probably the best-known and most reprinted African American novel. Similar to Charles Dickens and Balzac, Mrs. Harper's three other novels Minnie's Sacrifice (1869), Sowing and Reaping (1876-77), and Trial and Triumph (1888-89), were published in serial form, in Mrs. Harper's case, by "The Christian Recorder", the bimonthly magazine of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church.


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