In honor of Black History Month, we're sharing the remarkable life and work of Frances Harper, one of the most important African American authors of the 19th century. Here are five interesting facts about this fascinating woman.
1. Frances Harper was the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry.
Frances Harper was an African American poet, novelist and abolitionist who made history by becoming one of the first African American women to publish a book of poetry. Her collection, "Forest Leaves," was published in 1845 and contained poems addressing themes such as slavery, racism, and injustice.
Harper used her work to express her views on the importance of education for black Americans and advocating for women’s rights. She also wrote novels which were highly acclaimed at the time. Through both her writing and activism, Frances Harper left a legacy that continues to inspire us today.
Frances Harper is famous for being one of the first African-American women to publish a short story.
2. Frances Harper was the first African American woman hired as a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system.
Frances Harper was the first African American woman hired as a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1825 to free black parents. Her father, Henry Harper, was a delegate to the 1817 Maryland Constitutional Convention and her mother, Frances Wright, was an abolitionist.
Harper began her teaching career in 1848 at the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) in Philadelphia. In 1850, she became the first African American woman hired as a teacher by the Philadelphia public school system. She taught at various schools in Philadelphia until 1864 when she moved to Washington D.C. to teach at Miner Normal School (now Howard University). Harper continued to be an active voice for social justice throughout her life. She died in 1911 at the age of 86.
3. Frances Harper was an active abolitionist who helped raise funds for the Underground Railroad.
Frances Harper was a trailblazing African-American writer, activist, and abolitionist who made an indelible mark on the history of the United States. A tireless advocate for freedom and equality, she used her voice to speak out against slavery and oppression in America. She also played a critical role in raising funds for the Underground Railroad – a secret network of safe houses that helped escaped slaves find safety and freedom. Her efforts were instrumental in helping countless individuals escape bondage and make their way to freedom.
The underground railroad was used by African-America slaves to escape to free states and Canada.
4. Frances Harper's novel, "Iola Leroy," was one of the first novels published by an African American woman. It was also one of the first novels to positively portray interracial marriage.
Frances Harper's novel, "Iola Leroy," was a ground breaking work of literature published in 1892. Written by an African American woman at a time when such stories were rarely told, the book follows its titular character as she navigates the complexities of life and love during Reconstruction-era America.
At its heart, Iola Leroy is a story about identity and acceptance — two themes that are still incredibly relevant today. It also stands out for being one of the first novels to positively portray interracial marriage, which had long been taboo in American society. This bold choice made “Iola Leroy” an instant classic and cemented Harper's place among some of America’s greatest authors.
5. Frances Harper was also an active suffragist who helped organize the first African American women's national convention.
Frances Harper made history by organizing the first national convention of African American women in 1894.
Harper helped organize this event as part of her advocacy for gender equality and racial justice. Through this gathering, she sought to bring together prominent African American leaders from across the country to discuss strategies for progress. She also spoke at the convention about how Black women could use their voices to achieve social change through education, voting rights, economic security and more.
Her efforts were instrumental in furthering the cause of racial justice and gender equity during a time when such topics were not widely discussed or accepted.
Honoring Frances Harper
Frances Harper was a remarkable author and activist who significantly contributed to the literary and civil rights worlds. We hope you enjoyed learning more about her. Take some time to read about her work if you're looking for something new to read during Black History Month (or any time of year).