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Monday, September 24, 2012

September 24

Born this day in 1825, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, poet, writer and abolitionist and suffragist.  Ms. Harper was born to free parents in Baltimore,MD.  Her mother died when Harper was the young age of three and then she was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle Rev. William Watkins was a civil right activist and greatly influenced Harper's life. She was educated at the Academy for Negro Youth.
At the age of fourteen Harper found a job as a seamstress in a Quaker home which had a extensive library. As Maryland became more divided on the issue of slavery, a move to Ohio for the family. It is in Ohio Harper became the first woman to teach at Union Seminary. 
In 1845 Harper's first book of poetry Forest Leaves or Autumn Leaves was published. The book has been lost to herstory. Her second book of poetry Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects,  was published in 1854 to great popularity and went into reprint several times over.  And in 1859, the story  The Two Offers was published in Anglo-African Magazine. Ms. Harper's career as a writer was a successful one. She was also very popular on the lecture circuit.  Reading her poetry which often dealt with sins of slavery and a powerful introduction into the subject of abolishing slavery.  After the Civil War, Ms. Harper took up the cause of women's suffrage using her lecturing skills to make sure the voice of women of color.  Throughout Harper's life she wrote for magazines and newspapers creating a strong voice for African American women.
In 1860, at the age of 35, Frances married and retired from public life.  She produced one daughter in 1862, and sadly in 1865, her husband died.
Frances Harper returned to public life of lecture tours and writing focusing on the women's suffrage movement and fighting for women of color.
In 1892 she  published  one of her most popular novel,  Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted.  (I would like to suggest reading this novel online.) 
As a professional writer this amazing woman Frances Harper was a voice for Human Rights. In her personal life she put her voice into action, using her hands and heart to help the Underground Railroad and all women in their struggle for the right to vote .  She died in 1911.

I have include this poem by Harper because it captures emotional power of her work.
By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 1825–1911
Like a fawn from the arrow, startled and wild,
A woman swept by us, bearing a child;
In her eye was the night of a settled despair,
And her brow was o’ershaded with anguish and care.

She was nearing the river—in reaching the brink,
She heeded no danger, she paused not to think!
For she is a mother—her child is a slave—
And she’ll give him his freedom, or find him a grave!

’Twas a vision to haunt us, that innocent face—
So pale in its aspect, so fair in its grace;
As the tramp of the horse and the bay of the hound,
With the fetters that gall, were trailing the ground!

She was nerved by despair, and strengthen’d by woe,
As she leap’d o’er the chasms that yawn’d from below;
Death howl’d in the tempest, and rav’d in the blast,
But she heard not the sound till the danger was past.

Oh! how shall I speak of my proud country’s shame?
Of the stains on her glory, how give them their name?
How say that her banner in mockery waves—
Her “star-spangled banner”—o’er millions of slaves?

How say that the lawless may torture and chase
A woman whose crime is the hue of her face?
How the depths of forest may echo around
With the shrieks of despair, and the bay of the hound?

With her step on the ice, and her arm on her child,
The danger was fearful, the pathway was wild;
But, aided by Heaven, she gained a free shore,
Where the friends of humanity open’d their door.

So fragile and lovely, so fearfully pale,
Like a lily that bends to the breath of the gale,
Save the heave of her breast, and the sway of her hair,
You’d have thought her a statue of fear and despair.

In agony close to her bosom she press’d
The life of her heart, the child of her breast:—
Oh! love from its tenderness gathering might,
Had strengthen’d her soul for the dangers of flight.

But she’s free!—yes, free from the land where the slave
From the hand of oppression must rest in the grave;
Where bondage and torture, where scourges and chains
Have plac’d on our banner indelible stains.

The bloodhounds have miss’d the scent of her way;
The hunter is rifled and foil’d of his prey;
Fierce jargon and cursing, with clanking of chains,
Make sounds of strange discord on Liberty’s plains.

With the rapture of love and fullness of bliss,
She plac’d on his brow a mother’s fond kiss:—
Oh! poverty, danger and death she can brave,
For the child of her love is no longer a slave!
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