A free-born native of Baltimore, Maryland, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper gave her first anti-slavery lecture in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1854. Her books of poetry enhanced her prominence but when she in 1859 wrote an open letter to the condemned John Brown, her correspondence was read by tens of thousands of Americans. In May 1866 Harper addressed the Eleventh National Womens Rights Convention in New York City where she sat on the platform with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. That address appears below.
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. But I did not feel as keenly as others, that I had these rights, in common with other women, which are now demanded. About two years ago, I stood within the shadows of my home. A great sorrow had fallen upon my life. My husband had died suddenly, leaving me a widow, with four children, one my own, and the others stepchildren. 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 farmers wife and made butter for the Columbus market; but what could I do, when they had swept all away? They left me one thing-and that was a looking glass! 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.
I took my children in my arms, and went out to seek my living. While I was gone, a neighbor to whom I had once lent five dollars, went before a magistrate and Swore that he believed I was a non-resident, and laid an attachment on my very bed. And I went back to Ohio with my orphan children in my arms, without a single feather bed in this wide world, that was not in the custody