Frances Harper

American writer

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer, one of the first African American women to be published in the United States.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1872)


  • One hundred years ago and Africa was the privileged hunting-ground of Europe and America, and the flag of different nations hung a sign of death on the coasts of Congo and Guinea, and for years unbroken silence had hung around the horrors of the African slave-trade.
    • An Address Delivered at the Centennial Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 14, 1875.
  • The truly polite woman has no snub in her voice nor scorn upon her lips for those who occupy a lower social grade than herself. Nor will she thoughtlessly and carelessly shut the door of opportunity in the face of any one who is striving to rise in the scale of character, and build, over a sad past, more stately temples of thought and action. True politeness is consistent with perfect sincerity. If we are true to ourselves, we cannot be false to others. "I will tell this story,' said a person in the presence of General Grant, "as there are no ladies present." "But," replied the general, "there are gentlemen here." The man who could crush down defeat and organize victories had the manly politeness to guard the ears of others from being assaulted by unbecoming words.
    • "True and False Politeness" (1898)

"Woman's Political Future" Speech (1893)

  • So close is the bond between man and woman that you can not raise one without lifting the other. The world can not move without woman's sharing in the movement.
  • If the fifteenth century discovered America to the Old World, the nineteenth is discovering woman to herself.
  • Through weary, wasting years men have destroyed, dashed in pieces, and overthrown, but to-day we stand on the threshold of woman's era, and woman's work is grandly constructive. In her hand are possibilities whose use or abuse must tell upon the political life of the nation, and send their influence for good or evil across the track of unborn ages.
  • As the saffron tints and crimson flushes of morn herald the coming day, so the social and political advancement which woman has already gained bears the promise of the rising of the full-orbed sun of emancipation. The result will be not to make home less happy, but society more holy; yet I do not think the mere extension of the ballot a panacea for all the ills of our national life. What we need to-day is not simply more voters, but better voters.
  • More than the changing of institutions we need the development of a national conscience, and the upbuilding of national character. Men may boast of the aristocracy of blood, may glory in the aristocracy of talent, and be proud of the aristocracy of wealth, but there is one aristocracy which must ever outrank them all, and that is the aristocracy of character
  • In coming into her political estate woman will find a mass of illiteracy to be dispelled. If knowledge is power, ignorance is also power.
  • I envy neither the heart nor the head of any legislator who has been born to an inheritance of privileges, who has behind him ages of education, dominion, civilization, and Christianity, if he stands opposed to the passage of a national education bill, whose purpose is to secure education to the children of those who were born under the shadow of institutions which made it a crime to read.
  • power without righteousness is one of the most dangerous forces in the world
  • Great evils stare us in the face that need to be throttled by the combined power of an upright manhood and an enlightened womanhood; and I know that no nation can gain its full measure of enlightenment and happiness if one-half of it is free and the other half is fettered.
  • A wrong done to the weak should be an insult to the strong
  • How can any woman send petitions to Russia against the horrors of Siberian prisons if, ages after the Inquisition has ceased to devise its tortures, she has not done all she could by influence, tongue, and pen to keep men from making bonfires of the bodies of real or supposed criminals?
  • Let the hearts of the women of the world respond to the song of the herald angels of peace on earth and good will to men. Let them throb as one heart unified by the grand and holy purpose of uplifting the human race, and humanity will breathe freer, and the world grow brighter. With such a purpose Eden would spring up in our path, and Paradise be around our way.

"We Are All Bound Up Together" Speech (1866)

  • I feel I am something of a novice upon this platform. Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life had been spent in battling against those wrongs.
  • I tried to keep my children together. But my husband died in debt; and before he had been in his grave three months, the administrator had swept the very milk crocks and wash tubs from my hands. I was a farmer's wife and made butter for the Columbus market; but what could I do, when they had swept all away?
  • Had I died instead of my husband, how different would have been the result! By this time he would have had another wife, it is likely; and no administrator would have gone into his house, broken up his home, and sold his bed, and taken away his means of support.
  • justice is not fulfilled so long as woman is unequal before the law. We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the negro.
  • You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members. At the South, the legislation of the country was in behalf of the rich slaveholders, while the poor white man was neglected.
  • 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. The good would vote according to their convictions and principles; the bad, as dictated by prejudice or malice; and the indifferent will vote on the strongest side of the question, with the winning party.
  • I felt the fight in me; but I don't want to have to fight all the time.
  • In advocating the cause of the colored man, since the Dred Scott decision, I have sometimes said I thought the nation had touched bottom. But let me tell you there is a depth of infamy lower than that. It is when the nation, standing upon the threshold of a great peril, reached out its hands to a feebler race, and asked that race to help it, and when the peril was over, said, You are good enough for soldiers, but not good enough for citizens. When Judge Taney said that the men of my race had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, he had not seen the bones of the black man bleaching outside of Richmond. He had not seen the thinned ranks and the thickened graves of the Louisiana Second, a regiment which went into battle nine hundred strong, and came out with three hundred. He had not stood at Olustee and seen defeat and disaster crushing down the pride of our banner, until word was brought to Col. Hallowell, "The day is lost; go in and save it:" and black men stood in the gap, beat back the enemy, and saved your army.
  • We have a woman in our country who has received the name of "Moses," not by lying about it, but by acting out -a woman who has gone down into the Egypt of slavery and brought out hundreds of our people into liberty. The last time I saw that woman, her hands were swollen. That woman who had led one of Montgomery's most successful expeditions, who was brave enough and secretive enough to act as a scout for the American army, had her hands all swollen from a conflict with a brutal conductor, who undertook to eject her from her place. That woman, whose courage and bravery won a recognition from our army and from every black man in the land, is excluded from every thoroughfare of travel.
  • Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.

Quotes about Frances Harper

  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, during a discussion of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the continued exclusion of women from the ballot, she had remarked that "when it was a question of race, she let the lesser question go. But the white women all go for sex, letting race occupy a minor position.'
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)