About Frances Ellen Watkins HarperFrances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an African-American poet, abolitionist, suffragist, and author. Harper published her first volume of poetry, Forest Leaves, in 1845 at age 20. Her second collection, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), was extremely popular and became her greatest commercial success. In the years that followed, it was reprinted many times.
In 1858, Harper refused to give up her seat and sat in the black section of a trolley in Philadelphia (100 years before Rosa Parks) and wrote one of her most famous poems, Bury Me in a Free Land, when she falls ill on a speaking tour. In 1859, her short story The Two Offers was published in the Anglo-African Magazine, making her the first black woman to publish a short story. She then continued to publish poetry and short stories. Three of her novels were serialized in a Christian magazine from 1868 to 1888, but Harper is best known for what has long been considered her first novel, Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892), a book published while she was 67 years old. While it was once considered the first novel written by an African-American woman (discoveries of earlier texts in the works of Harriet E. Wilson and William Wells Brown have contradicted this reputation), it remains one of the very first works of this type. While using the conventions of the time, Harper deals with serious social issues, including women's education, passing, miscegenation, abolition, reconstruction, the temperance league, and social responsibility. She was also active on other social reform topics and was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, a group that advocates for the increased role of the federal government in progressive reform. She began her career as a lecturer and political activist after joining the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1853.
She also published Sketches of Southern Life in 1872. This work describes her travels in the Southern United States and her encounters with recently freed slaves. In these poems, she recounted the difficult living conditions of most of them. After the Civil War, she continued to fight for women's rights, African American rights, and many other social causes.
Frances Harper died on February 25, 1911.
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