Frances Harper was a social reformer who agitated for abolitionism, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. She was also the best-read Black woman poet of the 19th Century.
The daughter of free black parents, she was drawn into public life when sexist laws left her destitute after being widowed. In 1854, she moved to Philadelphia to work on the Underground Railroad.
Harper made several tours of the South during pre-emancipation to observe the conditions of the enslaved, and then during Reconstruction to document the ways families were adjusting to freedom.
In 1896 she helped organize the National Association of Colored Women of which she was elected a vice president.
A prolific writer, Harper is the first African American author of a published short story, The Two Offers, and is best known for her novel, Lola Leroy.
Her poem The Slave Mother was an inspiration to Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.
Part of the poem says :
He’s is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!
He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.