Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was born in Portland, Maine, to Sarah and Northrup Hopkins. Sarah Hopkins's second husband was William A. Hopkins, a tailor and Civil War veteran. Hopkins was related through her mother to the Paul family of Baptist ministers, who founded the first black church in Boston. She was also the grandniece of the poet James Whitfield. In her youth, Hopkins moved with her stepfather and mother to Boston, where she attended the Boston Girls' High School. She began her remarkable career at fifteen by writing a prize-winning essay on the "Evils of Intemperance and Their Remedies." She was awarded $10 in gold by William Wells Brown, author of the first "Tragic Mulatto" novel Clotel ( 1853). Hopkins also sang opera with her family's theatrical company "The Hopkins's Colored Troubadours." She wrote plays for the company as well, including Peculiar Sam; or, The Underground Railroad ( 1879).
Discouraged from playwrighting by a local theater manager ( Colored American Magazine [CAM] [ January 1901]:216), Hopkins worked four years as a stenographer for the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics. Meanwhile, she lectured on black history at churches and schools and read drafts of her fiction to women's clubs. Hopkins's literary career began with Contending Forces; or, A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South, the first and only surviving publication of the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company ( Boston, 1900). Most of her other work appeared in the Co-operative's Colored American Magazine (CAM), sometimes under her mother's maiden name, Sarah A. Allen.
Flanked by famous contributors, CAM, the first African-American general interest magazine, covered literary, social, historical, and political subjects of