Hopkins, Pauline (Elizabeth)

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HOPKINS, Pauline (Elizabeth)

Born 1895, Portland, Maine; died 23 August 1930, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Also wrote under: Sarah A. Allen

Daughter of William A. and Sarah Allen Hopkins

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was educated in the public schools of Boston. Before she graduated from the Girls High School, she had won a prize of $10 in gold, offered by the Congregational Publishing Society of Boston, for the best essay on "The Evils of Intemperance and Their Remedies." Initially, she aspired to be a playwright, and in 1879 wrote the musical drama Slaves' Escape; or, The Underground Railroad, also known as Peculiar Sam. Another play, One Scene from the Drama of Early Days, based on the biblical story of Daniel, was also written in this period.

From 1892 to 1985, she worked as a stenographer and eventually won a civil service appointment to the Bureau of Statistics on the Massachusetts Decennial Census, where she worked from 1895 to 1899. In May 1900, she resumed her literary career with a short story in the inaugural issue of the Colored American magazine.

By May of 1903, she had become the literary editor of the magazine and contributed many short stories and essays, one series of 12 biographical articles on "Famous Men of the Negro Race," and another series on "Famous Women of the Negro Race." Two of her novels, Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest and Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self, were serialized in the magazine in 1902. Another serialized novel, Hagar's Daughter, was apparently also written by Hopkins, under the pen name Sarah A. Allen.

Because of ill health, in 1904 Hopkins left the Colored American, which had moved to New York, and returned to the stenographic profession, this time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her only literary endeavor after this was a series of articles, "Dark Races of the Twentieth Century," which appeared in the Voice of the Negro from December 1904 through July 1905.

Contending Forces (1900), Hopkins' only novel published in book form, is a romance written in the typical genteel style common at the turn of the century. The plot centers on four young people in Boston who fall in love and, in spite of calamities, tragedies, and a complicated series of events, end up happily married and in possession of a lost family fortune. The "contending forces" in the novel are those problems and injustices African Americans encountered both in the North and in the South after the Civil War, such as the lack of political power, the difficulty in obtaining jobs, and most serious, the lynchings that were such a common occurrence in the South. In her frequently didactic style, she refers often to the inevitable and desirable mixing of the races through marriage. Mysticism and other psychic phenomena are important in the novel, existing concurrently with staunch, traditional Christianity. In the preface, she speaks of herself as "one of the proscribed race" and frequently uses the terms "inferior" and "superior" when referring to the black race and the white race, respectively.

The serialized novels and numerous short stories share a similar style and subject matter; almost all have a strong mystical element, and many deal with interracial love and marriage. Many of her essays are biographical with an obvious didactic tone, and she invariably points out that perseverance and hard work have resulted in the various individuals' success. In an essay in the Colored American of June 1900, she advocates limited suffrage for women.

As one of the first black women writers, Hopkins has a secure niche among the "Talented Tenth" of the Negro race, as W. E. B.

Du Bois designated the African American middle class of his day. Hers were not explicitly novels of protest, of which there were none at the turn of the century; she writes only of the black middle class and its problems. Her descriptive prose is often excessively florid, and when writing in dialect she falls short of authentic reproduction. Nonetheless, she occupies a unique place in the African American literary heritage as a woman who did no less herself than what she expected of her readers.

Other Works:

The papers of Pauline Hopkins are housed at the Fisk University Library in Nashville, Tennessee.


Bone, R., The Negro Novel in America (1965). Campbell, J., Mythic Black Fiction: The Transformation of History (1986). Carby, H. V., Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Women Novelists (1987). Gloster, H., Negro Voices in American Fiction (1948). Loggins, V., The Negro Author: His Development in America to 1900 (1964). Pryse, M. and H. J. Spillers, eds., Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, Literary Tradition (1985).

Reference works:

Black American Writers Past and Present (1975). Dictionary of American Negro Biography (1982). DLB (1986). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Colored American (Jan. 1901). Phylon (Spring 1972).


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