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Selected Poetry of Frances Ellen Watkins (1825-1911)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Index to poems

Of course, I don't know very much
About these politics,
But I think that some who run 'em,
Do mighty ugly tricks.
        (Aunt Chloe)
  1. Aunt Chloe
  2. The Drunkard's Child
  3. The Slave Mother


Notes on Life and Works

Frances Ellen Watkins was born September 25, 1825, in Baltimore, Maryland. After receiving an education at her uncle's school, and working in a book store, she turned to publishing. A book of poetry entitled Forest leaves came out in 1845, no copy of which has survived. Five years later, Watkins left Maryland for Ohio to teach at Union Seminary near Columbus and then in 1852 at Little York, Pennsylvania. In 1854 her second book of poems appeared, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (Boston, 1854) and sold 10,000 copies. That year she lived in Philadelphia at an underground railroad stop, by which slaves were moved north to safety. Her lecture career then flourished: she travelled through New England, Upper Canada, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania until 1861, generally talking on civil rights and education for Afro-Americans, and temperance. Watkins married Fenton Harper in 1860 and they settled on a farm near Columbus until his death in 1864. They had one daughter, Mary. After the civil war, Harper published Moses: A Story of the Nile (1869), another book of poetry, and continued her lecturing. About 1871 she returned to Philadelphia to settle at 1006 Bainbridge Street and to work for the YMCA. A fourth book of poems, Sketches of Southern Life, came out in 1872. One year after she published a novel, Iola Leroy (1892), dedicated to her daughter, Harper became director of the American Association of Colored Youth. Three more books followed quickly: The Sparrow's Fall and Other Poems (1894), Atlanta Offering: Poems and Martyr of Alabama and Other Poems (both 1895). She became vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. At 85 years old, Harper died on February 22, 1911, several years after Mary's decease, and she was buried in Eden Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Biographical information

Given name: Frances Ellen Watkins
Family name: Harper
Maiden name: Watkins
Birth date: 24 September 1825
Death date: 22 February 1911
Buried at: Eden Cemetery, Philadelphia