Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Phillis Wheatley

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Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party (Heritage Floor; detail), 1974–79. Porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 48 x 48 x 48 ft. (14.6 x 14.6 x 14.6 m). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photograph by Jook Leung Photography

Phillis Wheatley
b. circa 1753, West Africa; d. 1784, Boston

Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped into slavery in 1761 and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston, under whom she converted to Christianity. She received an education in the Wheatley home, mastering English, Greek, and Latin and publishing poetry from the age of fourteen. By 1771, she had composed enough verse to fill a volume but could not find an American publisher. With the assistance of Selina Hastings, a London publisher was found and Wheatley sailed for Europe in mid-1773. There she was fĂȘted by various dignitaries, including Benjamin Franklin. The London reception, followed by the release of her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, gave her an international reputation. Her fame was short-lived. Freed by the death of the Wheatleys in 1774, she married, had three children, and was abandoned by her husband. She continued to write, even while working as a domestic servant and caring for her children, but died impoverished at the age of thirty-one. Abolitionists would later cite Wheatley's accomplishments to refute racist arguments of black inferiority. Two volumes of her work were published posthumously: Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley (1834) and Letters of Phillis Wheatley, the Negro Slave-Poet of Boston (1864).

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