Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Colored Conventions Movement
To understand Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s influence, we must look to those who had the greatest impact on her writing, activism and lectures. The Watkins family was a prominent free Black family in Baltimore, Maryland, who used their status to educate Black youth and assist self-emancipated people. Maryland had a large free Black population and was still a slave state during Harper’s upbringing making it dangerous for Black people to educate themselves and own businesses. As her maternal uncle, Rev. William Watkins adopted Harper when she was three years old and raised her as his daughter. When she was old enough to attend school, Watkins enrolled Harper in his school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth. Born just a year after Harper in 1826, Rev. Watkins’s son William J. Watkins became more of a brother to Harper than a cousin. Together, the duo attended several conventions together including the Convention of the Colored Men of Ohio (1858 : Cincinnati, OH). By presenting the biographies, lectures and travels of her well-known male family members, we can better understand Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s activist contexts and genealogies and we can more accurately map her access to Colored Conventions as a Black woman in the 19th century.