Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Quotes

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

From The Slave Auction by Frances E.W. Harper
From The Slave Auction by Frances E.W. Harper. Public Domain Image

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a 19th century African American woman writer and abolitionist, was born to a free black family in a slave state, Maryland. Frances Watkins Harper became a teacher, an anti-slavery activist, and a writer and poet. She was also an advocate of women's rights and was a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association. The writings of Frances Watkins Harper were often focused on themes of racial justice, equality, and freedom.

Selected Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Quotations

• We may be able to tell the story of departed nations and conquering chieftains who have added pages of tears and blood to the world's history; but our education is deficient if we are perfectly ignorant how to guide the little feet that are springing up so gladly in our path, and to see in undeveloped possibilities gold more fine than the pavements of heaven and gems more precious than the foundations of the holy city.

• Oh, could slavery exist long if it did not sit on a commercial throne?

• We want more soul, a higher cultivation of all spiritual faculties. We need more unselfishness, earnestness, and integrity. We need men and women whose hearts are the homes of high and lofty enthusiasm and a noble devotion to the cause of emancipation, who are ready and willing to lay time, talent, and money on the altar of universal freedom.

• This is a common cause; and if there is any burden to be borne in the Anti-Slavery cause -- anything to be done to weaken our hateful chains or assert our manhood and womanhood, I have a right to do my share of the work.

• The true aim of female education should be, not a development of one or two, but all the faculties of the human soul, because no perfect womanhood is developed by imperfect culture.”

• Every mother should endeavor to be a true artist.

• The work of the mothers of our race is grandly constructive. It is for us to build above the wreck and ruin of the past more stately temples of thought and action.

Some races have been overthrown, dashed in pieces, and destroyed; but to-day the world is needing, fainting, for something better than the results of arrogance, aggressiveness, and indomitable power. We need mothers who are capable of being character builders, patient, loving, strong, and true, whose homes will be uplifting power in the race. This is one of the greatest needs of the hour.

• No race can afford to neglect the enlightenment of its mothers.

• The moment the crown of motherhood falls on the brow of a young wife, God gives her a new interest in the welfare of the home and the good of society.

• 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.

• 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.

• Apparent failure may hold in its rough shell the germs of a success that will blossom in time, and bear fruit throughout eternity.

• My lectures have met with success.... My voice was not wanting in strength, as I am aware of, to reach pretty well over the house.

• I never saw so clearly the nature and intent of the Constitution before. Oh, was it not strangely inconsistent that men fresh, so fresh, from the baptism of the Revolution should make such concessions to the foul spirit of Despotism! that, when fresh from gaining their own liberty, they could permit the African slave trade -- could let their national flag hang a sign of death on Guinea's coast and Congo's shore! Twenty-one years the slave-ships of the Republic could gorge the sea monsters with their prey; twenty-one years of mourning and desolation for the children of the tropics, to gratify the avarice and cupidity of men styling themselves free! And then the dark intent of the fugitive clause veiled under words so specious that a stranger unacquainted with our nefarious government would not know that such a thing was meant by it.

 Alas for these fatal concessions. (1859?)

• [letter to John Brown, November 25, 1859]  Dear Friend: Although the hands of Slavery throw a barrier between you and me, and it may not be my privilege to see you in your prison-house, Virginia has no bolts or bars through which I dread to send you my sympathy.  In the name of the young girl sold from the warm clasp of a mother's arms to the clutches of a libertine or a profligate, -- in the name of the slave mother, her heart rocked to and fro by the agony of her mournful separations, -- I thank you, that you have been brave enough to reach out your hands to the crushed and blighted of my race.

• Oh, how I miss New England, -- the sunshine of its homes and the freedom of its hills!  When I return again, I shall perhaps love it more dearly than ever.... Dear old New England! It was there kindness encompassed my path; it was there kind voices made their music in my ear. The home of my childhood, the burial-place of my kindred, is not as dear to me as New England.

About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Quotes." About Women's History. URL: . Date accessed: (today).