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Hopkins, Pauline Elizabeth

Hopkins, Pauline Elizabeth

August 13, 1930

Born in Portland, Maine in 1859, writer Pauline Hopkins and her family settled in Boston, Massachusetts. At the age of fifteen, she won a contest with her essay "Evils of Intemperance and Their Remedies." In 1879 she completed her first play, Slaves' Escape, or The Underground Railroad. This musical drama was produced the following year by the Hopkins' Colored Troubadours. Hopkins was an actress and singer in the production and became known as "Boston's favorite soprano."

During the early 1890s Hopkins pursued a profession in stenography. She passed the civil service exam and was employed for four years at the Bureau of Statistics, where she worked on the Massachusetts Decennial Census of 1895. In May 1900 Hopkins's literary career was launched with the founding of The Colored American magazine by the Colored Cooperative Publishing Company (CCPC). The premiere issue published Hopkins's short story "The Mystery Within Us."

Throughout the life of The Colored American (19001909), Hopkins had six other short stories featured and three novels serialized. It was during The Colored American 's first year of publication that the CCPC also released her first and best remembered novel, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South. Her writing, reflective of the historical conditions and cultural images of her day, advocated racial justice and the advancement of African-American women.

A frequent contributor to The Colored American, Hopkins was employed as an editor. She also helped increase circulation by creating the Colored American League in Boston. Twenty prominent African-American citizens were organized to generate subscriptions and business. During 1904 she raised additional support by lecturing throughout the country. By September she left the magazine, apparently because she was afflicted with neuritis. She continued writing, and her sociocultural survey series, "The Dark Races of the Twentieth Century," was featured in Voice of the Negro in 1905.

Hopkins's last published literary work, "Topsy Templeton," appeared in New Era magazine in 1916. Returning to stenography, she was employed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until August 1930. She died on August 13, 1930, when her bandages, worn to relieve her painful illness, accidentally caught fire.

See also Literature in the United States


Campbell, Jane. Mythic Black Fiction: The Transformation of History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Carby, Hazel. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Shockley, Ann Allen. "Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: A Biographical Excursion into Obscurity." Phylon 33 (1972): 2226.

Shockley, Ann Allen. Afro-American Women Writers, 17461933: An Anthology and Critical Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

Tate, Claudia. "Pauline Hopkins: Our Literary Foremother." In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

jane sung-ee bai (1996)

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