LIFE AND STRUGGLE OF FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS HARPER

The "leading colored poet in the United States" in the nineteenth century, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born to a Baltimore free black family in 1825. Starting in 1854, when she first moved to Philadelphia to work on the Underground Railroad, Harper put herself at the center of abolitionism, civil rights, suffragism, and temperance—the definitive social movements of the day. As a single black woman, she traveled the lecture circuit and after emancipation went south to report on the plight and gains of formerly enslaved Black citizens. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and Sojourner Truth, Harper took leadership roles in white-controlled suffrage organizations, often as the only person of color, in an environment of extreme enmity.

KEY WORK OF POETRY AND PROSE

"Let me make songs for the people," Harper wrote in a poem in 1895. Self-conscious of her role as a writer of hope, she also delivered searing condemnation and wit. Publishing books consistently from 1854 to 1895, Harper is the first Black American author of a published short story ("The Two Offers") and is best known for a novel, Iola Leroy (1892). Harper's poem "The Slave Mother (A Tale of the Ohio)" was an inspiration to Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. The Frances Project will also feature Harper's moving speeches, filled with humor, wisdom, and unsparing condemnation of injustice. They include: "We Are All Bound Up Together" (1866), "National Salvation" (1867), and "The Great Problem to be Solved" (1875).