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African American Women Writers of the 19th Century: Albert-Broughton

African American Women Writers of the 19th Century guide includes a digital collection of published works by 19th-century black women writers, biographies for each author, citations and much more

Anonymous

Anonymous (1766-?), who was born in Maryland and lived in bondage until about age thirty, brought her memoir to a close with these words: "When I went forth, it was without purse or scrip, and I have come through great tribulation and temptation not by any might of my own, for I feel that I am but as dust and ashes before my almighty Helper, who has, according to His promise, been with me and sustained me through all, and gives me now firm faith that he will be with me to the end, and, in his own good time, receive me into His everlasting rest."

We do not know precisely when this saintly soul passed away. All we know is that at the age of ninety-seven, this unordained and frequently 'buked and scorned itinerant preacher, dictated her tender story to someone who thought her dear. This brief narrative, Memoir of Old Elizabeth, A Coloured Woman, was published in 1863 in Philadelphia, where "Old Elizabeth" had been living since she was eighty-seven years old.

Octavia V. Rogers Albert

Octavia V. Rogers Albert (1853-c.1890) was born Octavia Victoria Rogers in Oglethorpe, Georgia, where she lived in slavery until the Emancipation. Like millions of freed men, women, and children, she had a deep yearning for learning, and eventually, at Atlanta University, she studied to be a teacher.

This steady young woman was as serious about being a stalwart Christian as she was about being a sterling teacher. While still living in Oglethorpe, she had joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was led by the legendary Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Not unlike many of her contemporaries, Octavia Victoria Rogers saw teaching as a form of worship and Christian service. Her first teaching job was in Montezuma, Georgia. There, in 1874, when she was about twenty-one years old, she married another teacher at this school: A.E.P. Albert, who later became an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, which Octavia was later to join. Soon after their marriage, the Alberts moved to Houma, Louisiana, where Octavia began conducting interviews with men and women once enslaved. These interviews were the raw material for what became her intelligent collection of narratives, The House of Bondage, or Charlotte Brooks and Others Slaves. "Never forget" could have been this work's second subtitle. As scholar Frances Smith Foster has observed, "the hymn that concludes Albert's volume summarizes her theme that abolition was the triumph of God's will over evil and that those who have been delivered must return to tell the story."

Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert did not live to see The House of Bondage reach the public. It was shortly after her death that the New Orleans-based Methodist Episcopal Church newspaper the South-western Christian Advocate serialized the work from January to December 1890. In 1891, owing to the efforts of the author's husband and their only child, Laura T. F. Albert, The House of Bondage was published in book form.

Eloise Bibb

Eloise Bibb (1878-1928?), the daughter of Catherine Adele and Charles H. Bibb, had prosperous beginnings because of her father's job as customs inspector in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Eloise Albert Veronica Bibb was born.

Eloise Bibb was seventeen when she made her literary debut with Poems (1895), published by Monthly Review Press in Boston. This delicate collection includes "To the Sweet Bard of the Women's Club," a tribute to another native of New Orleans, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, whose Violets and Other Tales was published by the same publisher and in the same year as Bibb's Poems.

Eloise Bibb never expected to live off her writing, but plotted a course to be a teacher. After attending Oberlin College's Preparatory Academy (1899-1901), she taught in the New Orleans public school system. In 1903, she left home again: this time for Washington, D.C., where she enrolled in Howard University's Teacher's College. Bibb graduated from Howard in the winter of 1908, and a few months later became head resident of the university's Colored Social Settlement House.

Bibb left this job in 1911. This was the year she married Noah Davis Thompson, a widower and father of a young son. (Thompson's first wife was Lillian B. Murphy, daughter of the founder of the Baltimore Afro-American and sister of Carl Murphy, who turned the Afro into one of the finest new era newspapers.) Soon after their marriage, the Thompsons moved to Los Angeles. There, in and around various enterprises (including real estate), Noah contributed articles to various periodicals as did Eloise, with Los Angeles Tribune, Out West, and Morning Sun among her outlets.

In 1927, when Noah was hired as business manager of the National Urban League's journal Opportunity, the Thompsons moved to New York City, which is where Eloise Bibb Thompson died.

Virginia W. Broughton

Virginia W. Broughton (?-?) was one of several children born to a couple once enslaved in Virginia, after which she was named. Virginia's parents had attained their freedom through purchase: her father had worked diligently doing the work of three men, saving every dime he could to buy himself and his wife out of slavery. Their daughter inherited this can-do spirit, and became equally successful.

Virginia Broughton received her early education at a private school in her home state. When time came for more schooling, she journeyed to Nashville, Tennessee, where she was among the first students at the preparatory school at Fisk College, remaining there to continue her undergraduate studies. When she graduated in 1875, she was qualified to be a schoolteacher, a position which suited her talents.

The school room was not the only place Broughton made a positive impact. This devout Baptist was also a missionary. Her primary area of ministry was to women, and she emerged as a leading advocate of women's rights. Whereas some saw gender equality as somewhat unorthodox and in conflict with the Scripture, Broughton found total support for it in the Bible. Among the ways she disseminated her ideas was with her 1904 book, Women's Work, as Gleaned from the Women of the Bible. This book was a handy synthesis of what she shared in her lectures and Bible studies and what she hoped would be shared in the Bible bands she seeded throughout Tennessee. Those inspired and uplifted by the life and works of Virginia Broughton very much appreciated her autobiography, Twenty Years' Experience of a Missionary (1907).

Credits

Author Biographies by Tonya Bolden

©2000 The New York Public Library