Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

1825 –

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born on September 24, 1825, in Baltimore and raised by her aunt and uncle.

A poet, novelist, and journalist, Harper was also a prominent abolitionist and an activist in the temperance and women’s suffrage movements. She traveled to multiple states to lecture and give speeches about these issues. In May 1866, she delivered the speech, “We Are All Bound Up Together” at the National Women’s Rights Convention in New York, sharing the stage with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. “You white women speak here of rights,” she said. “I speak of wrongs.”

With Margaret Murray Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and other prominent African American women, Harper helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president in 1897.

Harper authored numerous books, including the poetry collections Sketches of Southern Life (Ferguson Bros. & Co., 1891); Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (Merrihew & Thompson, 1854); and the recently recovered Forest Leaves (1845). She is best known for her novel Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (Garrigues Brothers, 1892). Harper also penned numerous short stories, particularly “The Two Offers,” an early feminist work, believed to be the first short story published by an African American woman in the U.S.

Before marrying Fenton Harper, a widower, with whom she had a daughter, Harper worked at Union Seminary in Ohio, where she taught sewing. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper died in Philadelphia on February 22, 1911.