Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer. She was one of the first African American women to be published in the United States.
Hilco Redevelopment Partners has designated three new streets at the old PES refinery site. One of them is Frances Harper Drive.
Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, Harper had a long and prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at the age of 20. At 67, she published her widely-praised novel Iola Leroy (1892), placing her among the first Black women to publish a novel.
As a young woman in 1850, she taught domestic science at Union Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, a school affiliated with the AME Church. In 1851, while living with the family of William Still, a clerk at the Pennsylvania Abolition Society who helped refugee slaves make their way along the Underground Railroad, Harper started to write anti-slavery literature. After joining the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1853, Harper began her career as a public speaker and political activist.
Harper also had a successful literary career. Her collection Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854) was a commercial success, making her the most popular African American poet before Paul Laurence Dunbar. Her short story “Two Offers” was published in the Anglo-African in 1859, making literary history as the first short story published by a Black woman.
Harper founded, supported, and held high office in several national progressive organizations. In 1886 she became superintendent of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1896 she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president.
In 1860, Frances Watkins married a widower named Fenton Harper. The couple had a daughter together, named Mary Frances Harper, and three other children from Fenton Harper’s previous marriage. When Fenton Harper died four years later, Frances Harper kept custody of Mary and moved to the East Coast. The two would continue to live there for the rest of their lives. While on the East Coast, Harper continued to give lectures to support herself.
The Frances Ellen Watkins Harper House is a historic row house at 1006 Bainbridge Street. Of uncertain construction date, it was the home of Frances Harper (1825-1911) from 1870 until her death.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper died of heart failure on February 22, 1911, at the age of 86. Her funeral service was held at First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. She was buried in Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, next to her daughter, Mary.
Information came from Wikipedia.com