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African American Women Writers of the 19th Century: Brown-Bush

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

Hallie Q. Brown

Hallie Q. Brown (c. 1845-1949) made the most of her roughly one hundred years on earth, lifting as she climbed. This dynamo was born, along with her five siblings, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to former slaves Frances Jane Scroggins and Thomas Brown. Hallie's father was reportedly the first black express agent in the nation and had been a worker on the Underground Railroad.

In 1864, the Brown family moved to Chatham, in Ontario, Canada. A few years later, they returned to the United States, settling in Wilberforce, Ohio, where Hallie enrolled in Wilberforce University, which was then under the leadership of a Brown family friend: renowned A.M.E. bishop Daniel Alexander Payne who was to become one of Hallie's major mentors.

After graduating from Wilberforce in 1873, Hallie Quinn Brown embarked on what was to be an illustrious career in education. For about a dozen years, she taught at several schools in the South. From 1885 to 1887 she served as dean of Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. From 1887 to 1892 she taught in the public schools of Dayton, Ohio, where she opened a night school for migrants from the South. During her days in Dayton, Brown assiduously studied oratory, and launched into another career: public speaking.

From 1892 to 1893, Brown served as Lady Principal at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. She spent the majority of her career - some three decades - as professor of elocution at Wilberforce University. Besides teaching, she lectured and produced the handbooks Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations (1900) and First Lessons in Public Speaking (1920). She played major roles in various civic organizations, including the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, where she was president from 1905 to 1912; and the National Association of Colored Women, which she co-founded and for which she served as president from 1920 to 1924. Brown was also involved in the Ohio Council of Republican Women, the National League of Women Voters, and the Negro Women's National Republican League.

Health problems compelled Brown to retire from Wilberforce in 1923. She did not retire from all activity, however. She continued to lecture, and she also continued to write. In 1925 her Tales My Father Told was published. In 1926, when Brown was in her late seventies or early eighties, her best known book came out: Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, a collection of sixty biographies (one-third written by Brown) of black women born in the United States or Canada between the mid-1740s and 1900. As scholar Randall K. Burkett observed, the sketches in Homespun Heroines "offer indispensable starting points for biographical research on a substantial number of extraordinary women." Included in that number are several women in The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. Among them are Frances E.W. Harper, Elizabeth Keckley, C. Henrietta Ray, Amanda Smith, and Phillis Wheatley.

Josephine Brown

Josephine Brown (1839-?), the youngest child of the abolitionist and author William Wells Brown and his wife Elizabeth, was born in Buffalo, New York, five years after her father made his famous escape from slavery. In 1845, the Browns moved to Farmington, New York. When William and Elizabeth separated two years later, it was William who got custody of Josephine and her sister Clarissa; however, the girls never lived with him continuously. With Boston as his new home base and his daughters in the care of some friends (and attending a school in New Bedford), William Wells Brown was on the road with antislavery work. Then, in 1849, he moved to London.

At some point in 1852, after attending a seminary in Calais, France, for about a year, Josephine and Clarissa Brown arrived in London, where they continued their education. After about a year and a half, both girls were qualified to teach. Josephine, not quite fifteen, found a position at a school in Woolwich, where several of her pupils were older than she was. During these days, Josephine also kept quite busy as an assistant to her father's extensive antislavery activities.

In 1854, Josephine was again in France for additional schooling. At some point in 1855, she returned to the United States, where she completed the biography of her father she had begun in France: Biography of an American Bondman, by His Daughter. As Josephine Brown explained in her preface to the book, she was moved to finish the book when she discovered that her father's autobiography Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave (1847) was out of print.

During the first few weeks of the release of Biography of An American Bondman, father and daughter were quite busy with speaking engagements, and a time or two Josephine, nearing seventeen, lectured independently. In the winter of 1856, Josephine Brown sailed for England. Virtually nothing is known of her life after that point.

Image of Miss Hallie Quinn Brown. Elocutionist. Date Issued 1893.

Miss Hallie Quinn Brown. Elocutionist.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. "Miss Hallie Quinn Brown. Elocutionist." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1893. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-75c8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

 

Annie L. Burton

Annie L. Burton (c.1850-c. 1910), who spent her childhood enslaved in Alabama, was the daughter of a woman named Nancy, the cook of Mr. and Mrs. William Farrin whose plantation was near Clayton. Annie Louise's father, a white man born in Liverpool, England, owned a plantation that was a long walk from the Farrins.

Annie Louise was a teenager when Union troops liberated her, her mother and siblings, and others in the area; and she remained in the South during the Civil War and for a good many years after it. She left the South in 1879, living in Boston and then in New York City. In both cities, she supported herself as a domestic worker (cook, maid, housekeeper, laundress).

In the early 1880s, Annie Louise returned South because her sister died, leaving behind a son who would have become an orphan were it not for his aunt Annie. Aunt Annie boasted that she was able to support her nephew all the way through his studies at Hampton Institute in Virginia. She was able to do this largely because of her success as a restaurateur, first in Jacksonville, Florida, and later in Boston. It was in Boston that this small-business owner married Samuel Burton.

Always intent on bettering herself, in 1900 Annie Louise Burton started attending a night school in Boston. She took classes at this school for about six years, and at the same time, she began work on the two autobiographical essays in her book Memories of Childhood's Slavery (1909). The book also contains a composition on Abraham Lincoln along with Burton's favorite poems and hymns.

Olivia Ward Bush

Olivia Ward Bush (1869-1944), born in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, was the daughter of Eliza Draper and Abraham Ward, both of whom were of African and Montauk descent. Olivia was not yet a year old when her mother died. Shortly thereafter, her father moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he married again, and handed Olivia over to her mother's sister, Maria Draper, who reared Olivia as her own child.

In 1889, Olivia Ward married Frank Bush, and the couple became parents to two children, Rosamund and Maria. The Bushes divorced at some point between 1895 and 1910, whereupon Olivia and her daughters went to live with Aunt Maria. By now, Olivia's interest in the arts was quite apparent. In 1899 her slim volume of verse, Original Poems, was published and received kudos from Paul Laurence Dunbar. In 1914, a more substantial collection of prose and poetry was published: Driftwood.

Marriage to Anthony Banks in the early 1920s resulted in a move to Chicago. There, Olivia continued her artistic endeavors, focusing on drama, which she had dabbled in years before. For a time, she worked as a drama instructor in the Chicago public school system and ran the Bush-Banks School of Expression. In the 1930s, Olivia Ward Bush Banks returned to the East, where she lived in New Rochelle and in New York City. The woman who counted W.E.B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen, and Paul Robeson among her friends, and who in various ways boosted emerging lights (including Richmond Barthé and Langston Hughes) exercised her creativity in a number of ways: she had an arts column in the Westchester Record-Courier, she was a drama coach for Abyssinian Baptist Church's Community Center; and she wrote several plays, pageants, and short stories, most of which were never published.

Credits

Author Biographies by Tonya Bolden

©2000 The New York Public Library