illustrations ©2011 Lance Tooks



Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911) was an author, orator, and social reformer notable for her poetry, speeches, and essays on abolition, temperance, and women’s suffrage. The daughter of free black parents, she was born in Philadelphia, and grew up in the home of an uncle whose school for black children she attended. At age thirteen Frances went to work as a domestic in a Quaker household in Baltimore, but continued her education with her employers’ encouragement. Her poems appeared in newspapers, and in 1845 a collection was printed as Autumn Leaves. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, conditions for free blacks in Maryland deteriorated and Frances moved to Ohio, where she taught sewing at Union Seminary. She moved on to Pennsylvania in 1851, where she helped escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad to Canada. In 1859 Watkins’ “The Two Offers” appeared in the Anglo-African, the first short story to be published by an African-American. In 1860, she married Fenton Harper and moved to Ohio, where she turned her energy to women’s rights. She helped organize the National Association of Colored Women in 1896, and was elected its vice president in 1897. She also continued with her writing, and in 1892 she published Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, one of the first novels by an African-American woman. Although a popular writer during her lifetime, Harper was not acclaimed by literary critics and her reputation waned until recent decades, when black women and feminists in general resurrected her legacy.

African-American Classics:
Graphic Classics Volume 22

144 pages, color, $15