Celebrating Inspiring Women for Black History Month!
There are so many women in history and making history right now that we’d love to feature and share with you.
If only the month were longer …
Today, we’re sharing the story of the first African-American poet and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems!
Reflections on Freedom…
Do you know the story of Phillis Wheatley and how she went from slavery to freedom and eventually became the first African-American poet?
What an incredible and inspirational story of strength, resilience, intelligence, and perseverance!
Phillis Wheatley was born ca. 1753 in Gambia, Africa, and, around the time she was 8, she was captured by slave traders and brought to America. Shortly after, she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, MA.
It’s wild to think that even though she spoke no English when she arrived she was able to learn the language very quickly.
It was clear that she was a precocious learner and, with the tutoring assistance of the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, she not only learned English but also studied Latin, history, geography, religion, and the Bible!
Phillis was treated more as a member of the family than a servant or slave. So much so that she ended up having the same education as many young women from elite Boston families!
She began writing poetry at the age of 14 and had many influences including well-known poets like Alexander Pope, her African heritage, and her religion!
When she was about 20, she traveled to London with the Wheatley’s son to publish her 1st collection of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. This was the first book written by a black woman in America.
Fabulous facts: her book included a foreword (signed by John Hancock and other Boston notables) as well as her portrait – apparently to prove that the work was indeed written by a black woman!
Thankfully, she was emancipated shortly after the publication of this book!
Wheatley married John Peters, a free black man from Boston, in 1778. She had difficulty publishing a 2nd book of poems and, in order to support her family, she had to work as a scrubwoman while continuing to write her poetry.
Sadly, Wheatley died in December of 1784, due to complications from childbirth.
Phillis Wheatley definitely left her mark – her literary talents were a testimony to the fact that African Americans were equally capable, creative, intelligent human beings who benefited from formal education (not something widely accepted at the time).
It’s quite possible that Wheatley’s success and role in literary history contributed to the cause of the abolition movement!
Thanks for reading about this important and inspirational woman! I hope you enjoyed learning about her as much as I did!
Sources: National Women’s History Museum Biographies & Massachusetts Historical Society Website
Let us feature YOU this month!
As our way of celebrating Black History Month, we are calling on all female change makers who would like to share their story
about what they’re doing to make a difference locally, regionally, nationally or internationally!
If you or someone you know would like to be featured in February, please contact us using the form below and we’ll send you the details!
Looking forward to hearing from you and spotlighting your story soon!