The Activism of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper By Amina Radoncic
The month of March is dedicated to celebrating the many achievements of women throughout history, symbolizing the continuous fight for gender equality, both legally and socially. The roots of early feminism date back to the late 1700s with leading female figures, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, publishing works that drew attention to the advocacy for women’s rights, most notably A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. However, the official first wave of feminism is recognized as having taken place in the 1840s, in accordance with the first formal Woman’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York (Feminism). The women most commonly associated with the feminist movement and praised for their achievements include Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, despite completely excluding women of color from their suffrage efforts, devoting most of their attention to white women. That being considered, there are countless women of color who have yet to be given the credit they deserve for their powerful strides in the struggle for women’s rights.
The mentioning of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper in conversations surrounding women’s suffrage is a rarity, in spite of her devotion to the movement. Harper is best known for her being an influential abolitionist, suffragist, and reformer, even co-founding the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (Alexander). Her accomplishments extended beyond fighting for the rights of women of color and enslaved peoples, as she was also a gifted orator who is recognized for being one of the best known Black poets of the 19th century (Zack). Furthermore, Harper is considered to be the first Black woman to publish a short story, her works even being featured in William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ The North Star. She spent much of her time traveling across the United States, speaking on matters regarding abolitionism, women’s suffrage, temperance, and much more. Her most notable speech, “We Are All Bound Up Together”, was given in 1866 at the National Woman’s Right Convention, sharing powerful and piercing words that criticized her white counterparts. As she spoke to the audience, she exclaimed, “I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believe that white women are dew drops just exhaled from the skies. I think that like men they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad, and the indifferent” (Nurin).
There is no doubt that Harper used the power of her voice to draw attention to those who were overshadowed by the words of white women and left forgotten. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper will go down in history for her monumental achievements in the fight for the rights of women of color, and she will, hopefully, one day receive the recognition and praise that she deserves.
Alexander, Kerri Lee. "Frances Ellen Watkins Harper." National Women's History
Museum, 2018, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/
frances-ellen-watkins-harper. Accessed 5 Mar. 2023.
"Feminism: The First Wave." National Women's History Museum, 5 Apr. 2021,
www.womenshistory.org/exhibits/feminism-first-wave-0. Accessed 5 Mar. 2023.
"Frances Ellen Watkins Harper." Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Frances_Ellen_Watkins_Harper. Accessed 5 Mar. 2023.
Nurin, Tara. "A Century After Black Activist FEW Harper Fought For The Vote And
Against Alcohol, The U.S. Still Hasn't Fully Delivered." Forbes, 6 Aug.
nt-see-them-succeed/?sh=56c47a801788. Accessed 5 Mar. 2023.
Zack, Ian. "Overlooked No More: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Poet and
Suffragist." The New York Times, 7 Feb. 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/02/07/
obituaries/frances-ellen-watkins-harper-overlooked.html. Accessed 5 Mar.
Amina Radoncic (she/her) is a sixteen-year-old writer from Long Island, New York. She is a lover of classic literature, her favorite reads include To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Women. While she chooses to spend most of her time reading or writing, you can also find her watching history documentaries, listening to music ranging from Taylor Swift to Vivaldi, and spending time with her dog.