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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Second Advisor

John Bracey

Third Advisor

Irene B. Krauthamer

Fourth Advisor

Laura Lovett

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Africana Studies | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


This dissertation examines the life and activism of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and provides a thorough biographical study of the nineteenth century Black woman writer and activist. Watkins Harper was born free in Baltimore in 1825 and became one of very few Black women antislavery lecturers during the 1850s. As an employed agent for various antislavery societies, she traveled extensively throughout the Northern parts of the United States to speak in front of mixed interracial audiences about the need to abolish slavery. After the Civil War, Watkins Harper continued her extensive lecturing tours, this time speaking to Northern and Southern audiences about the importance of achieving Black citizenship rights for the country’s newly free Black population. In the mid-1870s, Watkins Harper turned her attention towards the temperance movement and became a member of the largest women’s organization at the time, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. By 1883, the writer-activist was nominated as the WCTU’s national superintendent for Work among African Americans in the North, traveling across the country to speak to predominately Black audiences about temperance, voting rights, and racial uplift. While she campaigned tirelessly for racial and gender equality throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Watkins Harper also produced countless literary productions, such as poems, serialized novels, and short narratives, thus establishing herself as one of the most celebrated Black women writers of her time. Watkins Harper passed away in 1911 and left behind a remarkable legacy as a writer and an activist, allowing for a unique microstudy of one of the most prominent Black women of the 1800s.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Tuesday, September 01, 2026