28 Faces of Black Women – Harriet E. Wilson

February marks the celebration of Black History month. As a sorority who believe in “Excellence Through Unity”, it is only fitting that we take the time to present some of the notable women in African-American History.

During the month of February  we will present a short biography on famous, inspiring, and world-changing African-American women throughout history.

Lets go back in time and visit Harriet E. Wilson, the first female African-American novelist.

harriet-wilson-our-nig

Harriet E. Wilson is considered the first female African-American novelist, as well as the first African-American of any gender to publish a novel on the North American continent. Her novel Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black was published anonymously in 1859 in Boston, Massachusetts, and was not widely known. The novel was discovered in 1982 by the scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who documented it as the first African-American novel published in the United States.

Born a free person of color, of mixed race in New Hampshire, Wilson was orphaned when young and bound as an indentured servant until the age of 18. She struggled to make a living after that, marrying twice; her only son died at age seven in the poor house, where she had placed him while trying to survive as a widow. She wrote one novel. Wilson later was associated with the Spiritualist church, was paid on the public speaking circuit for her lectures about her life, and worked as a housekeeper in a boarding house.

Harriet Wilson moved to Boston, Massachusetts to seek a living. While there, she wrote Our Nig. On August 18, 1859, she copyrighted it, and deposited a copy of the novel in the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. On September 5, 1859, the novel was published anonymously by George C. Rand and Avery, a publishing firm in Boston.

In 1863, Harriet Wilson appeared on the “Report of the Overseers of the Poor” for the town of Milford. After 1863, she disappeared from records until 1867, when she was listed in the Boston Spiritualist newspaper Banner of Light as living in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. She subsequently moved across the Charles River to the city of Boston, where she became known in Spiritualist circles as “the colored medium.”[citation needed]

From 1867 to 1897, “Mrs. Hattie E. Wilson” was listed in the Banner of Light as a trance reader and lecturer. She was active in the local Spiritualist community, and she would give “lectures”, either while entranced, or speaking normally, wherever she was wanted. She spoke at camp meetings, in theaters, and in private homes throughout New England; she shared the podium with speakers such as Victoria Woodhull and Andrew Jackson Davis. In 1870 she traveled as far as Chicago as a delegate to the American Association of Spiritualists convention. Wilson delivered lectures on labor reform, and children’s education. Although the texts of her talks have not survived, newspaper reports imply that she often spoke about her life experiences, providing sometimes trenchant and often humorous commentary.

Closer to home, Wilson was active in the organization and maintenance of Children’s Progressive Lyceums, the Spiritualist church equal to Sunday Schools; she organized Christmas celebrations; she participated in skits and playlets; and at meetings she sometime sang as part of a quartet. She was also known for her floral centerpieces, and the candies she would make for the children were long remembered.

*Insert taken from Wikepedia

 

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