Lost to History – Unfamiliar Faces: Francis E.W. Harper

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Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston are among many peoples list of powerful writer influences. Throw in Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, and Langston Hughes and you have a dream team of the world’s most quoted, most copied, and most talked about black writer contributors of all time. A name you won’t hear is Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, poet, author, and abolitionist.

“My home is where eternal snow Round threat’ning craters sleep, Where streamlets murmur soft and low And playful cascades leap. Tis where glad scenes shall meet My weary, longing eye; Where rocks and Alpine forests greet The bright cerulean sky.” – Forest Leaves, Yearnings for Home by Frances E.W. Harper

Frances was a writer and poet born free to free parents in Baltimore and attended a school for blacks that was ran by her Uncle. Frances wrote poems and went on to publish her first collection in 1845, Forest Leaves. Years later, Frances taught domestic duties at Union Seminary in Ohio which was run by John Brown, the devout abolitionist who held strong opposing views of slavery. Brown, a white man, was a conductor of The Underground Railroad and The League of Gileadites, an organization established to help runaway slaves escape to Canada. As a result, naturally Frances got involved in the abolitionist movement and The Underground Railroad becoming a lecturer who went on tours with such men as Frederick Douglas.

In 1854, Frances published Poems of Miscellaneous Subjects, which featured one of her most famous works, “Bury Me in a Free Land”, and in 1859 made literary history with “Two Offers” which made her the first African-American female writer to publish a short story.

Harper died of heart failure on February 22, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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