b. 1825, Baltimore; d. 1911, Philadelphia
—Frances E. W. Harper, from an address to the Eleventh National Women's Rights Convention, New York, May 1866 (Harper, A Brighter Coming Day, 218)
Known as the "Bronze Muse," Francis Ellen Watkins Harper was a prolific writer in every genre, using her gifts for social protest. Born a free black in the slave state of Maryland, she observed from an early age the atrocities of slavery. Around 1850, she became the first female professor at the Union Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, but the escalating abolitionist struggle compelled her into the limelight. She moved to Philadelphia in 1853 to live in an Underground Railroad station, all the while writing poems and essays dedicated to the cause of abolition, temperance, and women's rights. In 1854, she published Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects; the book went through several printings and she donated a large portion of the proceeds to the Underground Railroad. That same year, a public address in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on "Education and the Elevation of the Colored Race" launched a two-year lecture tour as an agent of the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. She continued lecturing until 1860, traveling through the East and Midwest. She also made frequent contributions to major abolitionist journals such as The Liberator and Mary Shadd Cary's Provincial Freeman. In 1859, when her old friend John Brown was jailed for the attack on Harpers Ferry, Frances lived with his wife until his execution. After the Civil War, she resumed a grueling lecture schedule, traveling throughout the South to assist freed slaves. She continued publishing books; the best known is Iola Leroy (1892), a novel written in part to correct the romanticized plantation fiction that was gaining popularity. Her feminist commitments remained strong and in 1896 she co-organized the National Association of Colored Women. Ill-health curtailed her activities in 1901.
Related Place Setting
Related Heritage Floor Entries