Frances Ellen Watkins was born September 24, 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland as the only child of a free Black family. After losing her mother when she was only three and becoming an orphan, Frances Ellen Watkins was raised by her aunt Henrietta Watkins and her uncle Rev. William Watkins, who was also active in the Colored Conventions Movement. Rev. Watkins served as a father-figure to Frances Ellen Watkins making his son, William J. Watkins, more of a brother than a cousin to her. William J. Watkins followed in his father’s footsteps attending Conventions in addition to serving as a delegate.  Her education and passion for writing began at her uncle’s school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth. Through her uncle’s influence and the access to education he made available, Harper, then Watkins, published poetry and articles when she was only 20, establishing herself not only as a writer, but an activist. Together, William J. Watkins and Frances Ellen Watkins attended Conventions together. Connected not only by her close relationships with but also by name with a family who was well known in educational, Black print and activist circles, she became well known not only because of her speaking tours but also through her publications in Black newspapers.  The Anglo-African Magazine and the Christian Recorder were only two of the well-know Black publications that regularly featured her work. Following the passing of 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and the capturing of a free Black man named Edward “Ned” Davis (1), Frances Ellen Watkins joined the American Anti-Slavery Society as their  first Black woman on the speaking circuit, kicking off her lecturing tour and eventually leading her to speak at least three Black conventions between 1858 and 1873.




(1) Marcia C. Robinson. “The Tragedy of Edward ‘Ned’ Davis: Entrepreneurial Fraud in Maryland in the Wake of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 140, no. 2, 2016, pp. 167–182. JSTOR,


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(2) Boyd, Melba Joyce. Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E. W. Harper, 1825-1911. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994.

(3) Joyce Boyd, Melba. “The Mystery of Romance in the Life and Poetics of France Ellen Watkins Harper.” (Winter 2016).

(4) Parker, Alison M. “Frances Watkins Harper and the Search for Women’s Interracial Alliances.” (2012).

(5) Peterson, Carla L. Reconstructing the Nation: Frances Harper, Charlotte Forten, and the Racial Politics of Periodical Publication. American Antiquarian Society, 1998.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Parker, Alison M. “Frances Watkins Harper and the Search for Women’s Interracial Alliances.” (2012).