“Motherwork”

Race, Gender, and the Bible in the Works of Frances E. W. Harper

Authors

  • Jean T. Corey Messiah College

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v5i2.205

Keywords:

Frances Harper, suffragist, abolitionist, biblical hermeneutic, poetry

Abstract

Born in 1825, a free African American in Baltimore, Maryland, author Frances Ellen Watkins Harper devoted her life to the struggle for freedom. An abolitionist, and suffragist, the Bible figured prominently in Harper’s poetry, fiction, essays, and speeches. This essay considers how Harper’s poetry particularly challenged her nineteenth century reader to engage in more meaningful biblical interpretive strategies. Anticipating twentieth century Womanist interpretations, Harper disrupts and revises interpretive strategies that had been used to read against the biblical narrative’s message of liberation. Rereading commonly known texts with a different perspective or highlighting lesser known biblical stories, Harper’s biblical interpretations give voice to the voiceless women in the biblical text. Whether writing about women found in the biblical text or women in her own nineteenth century context, Harper’s poetry testifies to the mothers and “othermothers” who have struggled to ensure the dignity and rights of all people, in their own generations, as well as for generations to come.

Author Biography

Jean T. Corey, Messiah College

Jean T. Corey is assistant professor of English and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at Messiah College, where she teaches literature, writing and interdisciplinary courses focused on the intersection of gender, race, and religion.

References

Angelou, Maya. 1994. The Complete Collected Poems by Maya Angelou. New York: Random House.

Bassard, Katherine Clay. 2010. Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

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

Cannon, Katie G. 1988. Black Womanist Ethics. New York: American Academy of Religion.

Carby, Hazel. 1997. “ ‘On the Threshold of Woman’s Era’: Lynching, Empire, and Sexuality in Black Feminist Theory.” In Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, edited by Anne Mcclintock and Aamir Mufti, 330–343. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 1994. “Shifting the Center: Race, Class and Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood.” In Mothering: Ideology, Experience, and Agency, edited by E. N. Glenn, G. Chang, and L. R. Forcey, 45–65. New York: Routledge.

Foster, Frances Smith. 1993. A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader: A Brighter Coming Day. New York: Feminist Press at CUNY.

Graham, Maryemma. 1988. Complete Poems of Frances E. W. Harper. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grant, Jacquelyn. 1995. “Womanist Jesus and the Mutual Struggle for Liberation.” In The Recovery of Black Presence: An Interdisciplinary Exploration [Essays in Honor of Dr. Charles B. Copher, edited by Randall Bailey, Charles Copher, and Jacquelyn Grant, 129–142. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Harper, Frances E. W. 1857. Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. Reprint: Philadelphia, PA: Historic Publications, 1969.

———. 1894. “Woman’s Political Future—Address by Frances E.W. Harper of Virginia.” In The World’s Congress of Representative Women, edited by Mary Wright Sewall, 433–437. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally and Co.

Henderson, Mae Gwendolyn. 1989 “Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics and Dialectics and The Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition,” In Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women, edited by Cheryl Wall, 16–37. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider: Speeches and Essays by Audre Lorde. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.

Painter, Nell. 1997. Sojourner Truth; A Life, a Symbol. New York: W. W. Norton Publishing.

Ryan, Judylyn S. 2005. Spirituality as Ideology in Black Women’s Film and Literature. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. 1895–1898. The Woman’s Bible. New York: European Publishing Company. Reprint edition: Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1993.

Tolbert, Mary Ann. “Mark.” In The Women’s Bible Commentary. edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 350–362. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Weems, Renita. 1991. “Reading her Way through the Struggle: African American women of the Bible.” In Stony the Road We Trod, edited by Cain Hope Felder, 57–80. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.

Published

2011-11-14

How to Cite

Corey, J. T. (2011). “Motherwork”: Race, Gender, and the Bible in the Works of Frances E. W. Harper. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 5(2), 205–218. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v5i2.205

Issue

Section

Articles