Frances E. W. Harper (b. 1825 – d. 1911)

Frances E. W. Harper (b. 1825 – d. 1911)

Harper was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1825 and lived to be a poet, author, lecturer, and activist. Raised by her aunt and uncle, an abolitionist and self-taught doctor—Harper was surrounded by activism at a young age. Her uncle, William Watkins, organized his school in 1820 called the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth, which Harper attended. At the age of 26, Harper moved to Wilberforce, Ohio to work at the Union Seminary, a school for free blacks, and became the school’s first female instructor. Also, while in Ohio, she began to dedicate her time to abolition work while the guest of abolitionist couple William and Letitia Still, William still is known as the father of the Underground Railroad. During this time, Harper began to write poetry for antislavery newspapers such as The Liberator and the Frederick Douglass’ Paper. She also made her rounds across the United States and Canada as an anti-slavery lecturer and advocate for women’s rights and the temperance movement. Her writings tended to mirror her lecture work, and in 1859 she wrote the short story “The Two Offers,” published in the Anglo-African Magazine, which was about the education of women. She was the first black woman to publish a short story. She had many other works, including Sketches of Southern Life (1872) which chronicled Reconstruction. In the latter half of the 19th century her lectures geared towards women’s rights. For example, in 1866 she spoke at the National Woman’s Rights Convention in New York and gave a speech titled “We are all bound up together” where she advocated that white and black women work together in the fight for suffrage. Her efforts proved fruitful in the short term, the American Equal Rights Association was established to work for suffrage for both black and white women—but ultimately the organization split over the decision to support the 15th amendment which granted black men the right to vote. The split lead to the establishment of the Frederick Douglass backed American Woman Suffrage Association, of which Harper was a member. Harper later went on to co-found the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, directed the American Association of Colored Youth, and was the superintendent of the Colored Sections of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Additional sources:

Women’s History Short Biography:

Poetry Foundation Short Biography:

Iowa State University Archives of Women’s Political Communication Short Biography:

New America Short Biography:

Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Short Biography:

WHYY Short Biography:


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