Three Women Writers: A Study in Virtue and Christianity of the 18th and 19th centuries
The popularity of Toni Morrison's Beloved has recently awakened a mainstream interest in African-American literature. Writers, such as Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, have also facilitated the infiltration of African American voices into popular culture. This website is devoted to three women who, like Morrison and Angelou, have aided in the formation and development of the African American literary tradition, but often remain unremembered in today's society.
Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, and Harriet Wilson have all made valuable contributions in the forms of poetry, narrative, and fiction to the early stages of a growing literary tradition. Although these women portrayed different viewpoints, utilized different writing styles, and wrote within different contexts many comparisons can be made amongst their work. Specifically this site focuses on the common themes of virtue and Christianity represented in the authors' work and in their lives.
Wheatley was born in Africa in the early 1750's and was brought to Boston in 1761 as a slave. The Wheatley family, who was a prominent family in the Boston community, purchased her. The Wheatley's encouraged and taught her, and within sixteen months Phillis was reading and writing fluent English. At the age of fourteen she was writing poetry and hailed as a prodigy of her race. In 1773, Wheatley's first and only published volume, entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was released. After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley, Phillis was left to support herself as a poet and seamstress. Although she married and had children, she continued to struggle economically. Both of her children died at a boarding school, but despite this tragedy and her poverty Phillis continued to write poetry up until her death on December 5, 1784.
Harriet Wilson is believed to be the first African American woman to publish a novel in English. The rediscovery of her novel, Our Nig, in 1981 led into an inquiry into her life. Still few biographical details are known about Wilson's life. It is thought that she was born in New Hampshire in 1827 or 1828. The next known record of her is in 1850 and documents her as living with the Boyles family in Milford. She then left the Boyles in order to support herself. On October 6, 1851 she married Thomas Wilson and gave birth to her son George Mason Wilson in the spring of 1852. After being deserted by her husband, Wilson wrote Our Nig in effort to supplement her income as a seamstress and to support her son. After the death of her son in 1860, Wilson soon disappears from public record.
Jacobs was born in North Carolina in 1813 as a slave, although she wasn't aware of this misfortune until the age of six. Upon the death of her mistress,...