Black History Month is in full swing. The importance of this observance cannot be overstated. Accordingly, this blog will examine important African-Americans. Let us start it off with the remarkable nineteenth-century abolitionist, poet and author Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911).
She was born Frances Ellen Watkins on September 24, 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland, to free parents. They died when she was three years old. Thereafter she was raised by her aunt and uncle. The latter, Rev. William Watkins, was a minister and activist. He ran the Academy for Negro Youth, where his niece did her grade school work.
After working as a seamstress from age 13, Frances Watkins moved to Ohio in 1850, where she became the first woman to teach at the AME-run Union Seminary. In 1853 she started a two-year tour lecturing for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She continued traveling and lecturing until she married Fenton Harper in 1860, and resumed such activities when he died in 1864.
She was a prolific activist for many other causes. Watkins Harper was for a time superintendent of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union, directed the Northern United States Temperance Union, and was the first African-American woman to be recognized on the Red Letter Calendar of the World Temperance Union. In the area of women’s rights she was member of the American Women’s Suffrage Association, was connected to prominent suffragettes, and, in 1866, delivered a noted speech to the National Women’s rights convention in which she advocated equal rights for all regardless of color or gender. After emancipation she became an activist for what would later become known as civil rights. She was director of the American Association of Colored Youth and a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women. She also fought for universal educational opportunity and was active in both the AME and Universalist churches.
Watkins Harper also distinguished herself as a writer. She wrote numerous volumes of poetry, beginning with Forest of Leaves (1945). She wrote ” The Two Offers,” the first short story by an African-American, in 1859. Between 1868 and 1888 she wrote three novels published in serial form and in 1892 wrote Ida Leroy, published in its entirety and one of the first novels written by an African-American. She also wrote many essays.
This post is based material from biographical posts in Wikipedia, the Poetry Foundation web site, and the African-American Registry.