Race, Gender, and the Bible in the Works of Frances E. W. Harper
Keywords:Frances Harper, suffragist, abolitionist, biblical hermeneutic, poetry
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.
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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.
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