News

Remembering Revolutionary Poet and Abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins

Remembering Revolutionary Poet and Abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins

May we never forget those who paved the way!

Frances Ellen Watkins was a poet, abolitionist, orator and conductor on the Underground Railroad, according to BlackPast.org.

She was born Sep. 24, 1825, in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of free Black parents. Orphaned at a young age, Watkins eventually went to live with her uncle. She attended the school he built for Black children, growing up to serve as a teacher and administrator at Watkins Academy. After working in a domestic position as a nursemaid, Watkins began writing poetry, publishing her first essays during the 1830s in antislavery journals, Literary Ladies Guide reports.

Her first collection, Forest Leaves, was published in 1845 with close friends and abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and William Still helping to circulate her work. After the Fugitive Slave Act passed, Watkins began traveling as an orator, speaking about antislavery and women’s rights, sending money from her work back to her uncle to assist with the Underground Railroad.

Photo Courtesy of Literary Ladies Guide

In 1860, Watkins married Fenton Harper, also going by the name Frances E.W. Harper, settling in Ohio and suspending her lectures to focus on her husband and children. Four years later, Fenton would pass, and Watkins resumed lecturing, teaching and writing poetry and novels. She amassed great fame and became a champion for justice, becoming the first Black author to have a short story published and one of the first to publish a novel. In 1892, she published Lola Leroy, one of her last literary works. She passed away on February 20, 1911.

In honor of her grand legacy, we’ve compiled a few of her most inspirational quotes:

National Women’s Rights Convention, 1866

“We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro...You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me...I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.”

“Woman’s Political Future,” Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893

“The tendency of the present age, with its restlessness, religious upheavals, failures, blunders, and crimes, is toward broader freedom, an increase of knowledge, the emancipation of thought, and a recognition of the brotherhood of man; in this movement woman, as the companion of man, must be a sharer...so close is the bond between man and woman that you can not raise one without lifting the other. The world can not move without woman’s sharing in the movement, and to help give a right impetus to that movement is woman’s highest privilege.”

National Council of Women, February 23, 1891

“There are some rights more precious than the rights of property or the claims of superior intelligence: they are the rights of life and liberty, and to these, the poorest and humblest man has just as much right as the richest and most influential man in the country. Ignorance and poverty are conditions which men outgrow.”

Photo Courtesy of Literary Ladies Guide

Thank you for your sacrifice Ms. Watkins! We salute you!

Photo Courtesy of Literary Ladies Guide