Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells

Frances Harper and Black Women in the WCTU

Black Women in the WCTU

explain how the WCTU permitted segregation: it basically allowed white unions in the South to decide they didn't want to admit black women, but if black women organized their own unions they were treated the same as a state's white unions in terms of where they fell in the national structure (i.e. they sent the same number of delegates to nat'l conventions who were seated on the executive committee). Comment on funding or lack thereof for Dept of Work Among the Colored People.

Frances Harper and the "Department of Work Among Colored People"

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, pictured at right, was a WCTU leader, poet, and abolitionist. Born into a free black family in 1825, Harper was educated in Baltimore until her family fled the city after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. After short stints as a teacher, in the 1850s Harper joined the abolitionist movement and became a traveling lecturer. After the Civil War she was involved in the temperance and suffrage movements and worked to improve women's education and the welfare of recently freed slaves. She also continued to write and publish her novels and poetry.

A committed "temperance woman," Harper joined the WCTU in the 1880s and became Superintendent of its "Department of Work Among the Colored People." Harper's words, and her choice to join a mostly-white organization, demonstrate her commitment to interracial cooperation. Though she believed that education and resources were necessary for "race progress," she also thought that white women bore as much responsibility as white men in the oppression of black people and that they needed to educate themselves out of racial prejudice.

The below document is one of Harper's reports on the activity of her department. It was published in the WCTU's official newspaper, the Union Signal, in 1885. In it, Harper urges the white women in the WCTU to commit to organizing for temperance among black women. She reminds them that they, as white women, have benefited from generations of wealth and education that black women have not had.

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