Born Sep. 24, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), known as “The Bronze Muse,” gained national prominence as author, abolitionist, social activist, and champion of women’s rights.
Harper was born of free parents who died when she was three, according to Blackfacts.com. Working as a domestic at 13, she was allowed to use the library where she worked. After her introduction to the literary world, she discovered a love for writing, eventually becoming a versatile writer who excelled in various literary forms, being recognized as the most celebrated black woman of letters of her times. She distinguished herself as a poet, publishing her first collection of poetry Forest Leaves or Autumn Leaves in Baltimore about 1845. In addition she has published essays as well as short stories, becoming one of the first African American writers to publish in this genre (“The Two Offers”). She was also a pioneer, as one of the first black authors to publish a novel with Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted in 1892.
After graduating from Union Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, Harper became its first female faculty member. According to About.com: Women’s History, during the 1850s Harper became involved in the anti-slavery movement and with the Underground Railroad. Her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, published in 1854 with a preface by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, sold more than 10,000 copies and was reissued and reprinted several times. In addition to using her writing abilities in the anti-slavery movement, she was also recognized as a dramatic platform speaker.
Later she lent her talents to other social movements, such as temperance and women’s rights. About.com: Women’s History also notes that she joined the American Equal Rights Association and the American Women's Suffrage Association, working with the branch of the women's movement that worked for both racial and women's equality. In addition, she championed the cause of equality within the suffrage movement and later became one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women, becoming the first vice-president of the organization.
To learn more about Harper’s connection with central Ohio and to read one of her poems “Songs for the People,” click here.