Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution


Born into an educated free black family in Portland, Maine, Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930) was a pioneering playwright, journalist, novelist, feminist, and public intellectual, best known for her 1900 novel Contending Forces: A Romance of Negro Life North and South. In this critical biography, Lois Brown documents for the first time Hopkins's early family life and her ancestral connections to eighteenth-century New England, the African slave trade, and twentieth-century race activism in the North.

Brown includes detailed descriptions of Hopkins's earliest known performances as a singer and actress; textual analysis of her major and minor literary works; information about her most influential mentors, colleagues, and professional affiliations; and details of her battles with Booker T. Washington, which ultimately led to her professional demise as a journalist.

Richly grounded in archival sources, Brown's work offers a definitive study that clarifies a number of inconsistencies in earlier writing about Hopkins. Brown re-creates the life of a remarkable woman in the context of her times, revealing Hopkins as the descendant of a family comprising many distinguished individuals, an active participant and supporter of the arts, a woman of stature among professional peers and clubwomen, and a gracious and outspoken crusader for African American rights.


Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins regarded herself as a true daughter of New England, and her rich family history granted her a place in the history of the region as well as the nation. Hopkins was born into an antebellum world populated by gracious and uncompromising racial activists, accomplished artists and performers, dedicated scholars, and enterprising professionals and entrepreneurs. She absorbed the substantial African American histories that documented the efforts by people of color in the North to acquire political representation, educational opportunity, and civil rights. She also took careful note of the inspiring traditions of moving public performances, which ranged from classical concerts to juvenile recitations, all evidence of the thriving intellectual and cultural environment in which her ancestors had played a defining role. All of Hopkins’s works—from her earnest prizewinning high school essay on the virtues of a temperate life to her engaging anthropological evaluations of populations she referred to as “the dark races” of the modern age—confirmed her deep sense of cultural entitlement, political authority, and racial pride.

Born in Portland, Maine, in 1859 to free parents of color, Pauline Hopkins relocated to Boston at a young age and lived in Massachusetts for almost her entire life. She grew up in a loving and large extended family that linked her to freedom in the colonial North and to bondage in the antebellum South. Her first mentors were drawn from her family; these influential figures recognized and nurtured her creative genius and flair for performance. By the early 1870s, Hopkins was breaking new ground as an African American playwright, and by her early twenties, she had become the first woman of color to write and star in her own dramatic work. Her public performance life was rooted in both secular and religious New England traditions. She collaborated with leading entertainment figures such as Sam Lucas, Anna Madah Hyers, and Emma Louise Hyers and with them enjoyed national success and acclaim. in Boston, Hopkins consolidated her family ties and with her parents established a concert company that offered traditional and religious songs.

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