From Afro-American Almanac: African American History Resource (http://www.toptags.com/aama/bio/bio.htm)


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 24, 1825 to free parents. At the age of three, her parents died and she was sent to live with an uncle Reverend William Watkins, a teacher at the Academy for Negro Youth and a radical political figure in civil rights.

At the age of 13, she went to work as a nursemaid, but she continued her education on her own. She was allowed to use the library of the family she worked for and while still in her teens began to write poetry. In 1839, Harper's first poems were published in abolitionist periodicals. In 1845, her first collection of verse and prose was published in a collection entitled Forest Leaves.

In 1850, Harper left Baltimore in order to become the first woman to teach at Union Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio.

During the early 1850's Harper took another teaching position in Pennsylvania. During this time, she lived in an Underground Railroad Station, where she witnessed the workings of the Underground Railroad and the movement of slaves toward freedom. This experience had a profound effect on Harper, her poetry, and her later work as an activist.

In 1854, Harper was exiled from Maryland because of new slavery laws stating that black people who came in through the northern border of Maryland could be sold into slavery. This marked the beginning of Harper's activism. She toured the Northern United States and Canada where her writings appeared in the Provincial Freeman, an anti-slavery newspaper. Her speeches included her prose and poetry, in which she combined the issues of racism, feminism, and classism.

In the late 1850's she published another volume of poems entitled Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. This work sold over 10,000 copies within its first five years of publication. Harper donated a large portion of the proceeds to the Underground Railroad. In 1859, her narrative "The Two Officers" appeared in the September-October issues of Anglo-African magazine, making her the first Black American to publish a short story. In 1860, Harper married the love of her life, Fenton Harper.

With the birth of her daughter Mary in 1862, Harper curtailed her speaking engagements. But after the death of her husband in 1863, she returned to her busy routine of lecturing and writing. Immediately after the Civil War, she went South and spoke to former slave owners and newly freed slaves. It was her belief that the lives of both were connected and that one could not succeed at the expense of the other. Harper formed alliances with strong figures in the feminist movement, including Susan. B. Anthony. In 1866 Harper gave a moving speech before the National Women's Rights Convention, demanding equal rights for all, including black women.

She also published books during throughout this period, including, "Moses, A Story of the Nile" in 1869, " Sketches of Southern Life" in 1872 and "The Martyr of Alabama and Other Poems" in 1894. Her most popular work was a novel, Iola Leroy:On Shadows Uplifted, a book about a wealthy slaveowner who falls in love with and marries an African-American woman, published in 1892. Iola Leroy was one of the first novels published by a black woman in the United States.

Harper's eloquent efforts to raise consciousness on this issue earned her election as Vice-President of the National Association of Colored Women in 1897.

Harper continued her important work through her lectures and her writing until her death from heart disease on February 22, 1911.