5. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper published her first volume of poetry at the age of 20—and it wouldn’t be the last time that the forward-thinking Black author and political activist broke down barriers in the course of her lifetime. Her parents were both free—a relatively rare thing when she was born in 1825—and after they died, she was taken in by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was an abolitionist who established his own school and helped Watkins Harper discover the power of education and activism.
Watkins Harper went on to write poetry for antislavery papers, become the first woman teacher at an Ohio-based school for free African-Americans, and publish Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, which included an introduction by famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. In 1866, she spoke out on the importance of inclusivity for Black women in the women’s suffrage movement at the National Woman’s Rights Convention—and along with Mary Church Terrell, Harriet Tubman, and other Black woman activists, she later co-founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896.