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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Renee

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper | Abolitionist and Author

Updated: Feb 2

Orphaned at the age of three, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911) would go on to become an influential abolitionist, suffrage activist, and the co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, which she founded alongside Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell.

Following her parents’ untimely death, Frances, who was born free in Baltimore, was adopted by her aunt and uncle, Henrietta and William Watkins.

She would attend school at the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth, an institution run by her uncle until she was forced out at 13 into a job as a domestic worker.

After leaving school, Frances found a new avenue for reading, borrowing books from the shelves of the bookstore owned by the family whose clothes she'd been hired to mend.

Soon Frances undertook her own literary endeavors, publishing her first book of poetry, "Forest Leaves," at 20 years of age.

By 26, Frances had found work as an educator in Ohio. During her time there, Maryland, the state in which she was born, passed a law that barred free Black people from entering the state. Unable to return home, Harper moved to Pennsylvania and further dedicated herself to abolition.

While living in Pennsylvania, Frances continued writing. Both The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ Paper published her poetry. Frances also undertook speech writing, became appreciated for her oration, and spent time traveling as a hired lecturer.

In her later life, Harper played influential roles in several organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, of which she was the co-founder and vice president, and the American Association of Colored Youth, for which she served as director.



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