BETHEL — “A Lecture was given Friday evening of last week at Pattee’s Hall by Mrs. Frances W. Harper, a colored lady.” starts the news item in the Oxford Democrat newspaper on Feb. 23, 1866, less than a year following the end of the Civil War.

And continues with a zinger: “Many a man of world renown would willingly lose half their present renown if they could speak in public as eloquently as she. For smooth rhetoric, keen satire, and clear and forcible argument she is excelled by few, either black or white.”

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, temperance activist, teacher, public speaker, and writer.

It was in 1851, while helping refugee slaves make their way along the Underground Railroad, that Harper began writing anti-slavery literature.

Beginning in 1854, and continuing for several years, Harper toured Maine as a speaker for the Anti-Slavery Society, having been hired after delivering her first anti-slavery speech called, “The Elevation and Education of Our People.”

She spoke in 1855 at the Daughters of Freedom convention in Portland and Austin Willey, editor of the Portland Inquirer gave this account, ” … the power of her simple, unaffected appeals, no heart could withstand, and good judges affirmed that for richness of thought, and beauty of writing her address, she had not been equalled [sic] in that place this winter. It was about an hour long, and was frequently interrupted by applause.” This according to a book titled, “Maine’s Visible Black History,” borrowed from Will Chapman at Bethel Historical Society.


Ninety-seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus, Harper refused to give up her seat in the “colored” section of a segregated trolley car in Philadelphia in 1858. This according to The Liberator, “Extracts from a letter of Frances Ellen Watkins.”

Harper fearlessly returned to the South following the war, talking to former slaves and meeting with women, teaching them to elevate themselves.

She returned to Maine, too, with a lecture titled, “The Mission of the War, and the demands of the Colored Race in the Work of Reconstruction.” It is not known definitively, but is possible that this was the lecture Bethel residents heard on February 16, 1866.

Facing much discrimination on the tour circuit and especially in her home state of Philadelphia, “the meanest of all,” she recalled New England warmly: “Dear old New England! It was there kindness encompassed my path; it was there kind voices made their music in my ear. The home of my childhood, the burial-place of my kindred, is not as dear to me as New England.” (from “The Liberator,” an anti-slavery publication).

Harper was one of the first African-American women to be published in the United States in 1845. She published 80 poems, her first at age 20. At age 67 she wrote the widely acclaimed, “Iola Leroy.” Her prolific work: poetry, essays and books disclosed the life of a slave mother, argued for the abolition of slavery and argued for a woman’s right to vote.

Here is her poem, titled, “The Deliverance” (1891):


“But when John Thomas Reeder brought

His wife some flour and meat,

And told he had sold his vote

For something good to eat,

You ought to seen Aunt Kitty raise,

And heard her blaze away;


She gave the meat and flour a toss,

And said they should not stay.

And I should think he felt quite cheap

For voting the wrong side;

And when Aunt Kitty scolded him,

He just stood up and cried.”


A suffragist, too, Harper wrote a poem titled, “A Double Standard.” These are two of the stanzas:

Would you blame the world if it should press
On him a civic crown;
And see me struggling in the depth
Then harshly press me down?
Crime has no sex and yet to-day
I wear the brand of shame;
Whilst he amid the gay and proud
Still bears an honored name.

Pattee’s Hall stood at the corner of Main and Spring Street in Bethel Village.

The building where Harper spoke that night in 1866, was a spacious, fairly new building just back from the corner of  Spring Street and Main, near Bethel Village.

In “Bethel, Maine: An Illustrated History,”  Randall H. Bennett, of Bethel, writes, “Pattee’s Hall was named for its builder Moses Pattee, a prosperous local businessman who had large real estate holdings, including mills, in Bethel and Albany … the second story hall (with a “spring dance floor”) once served as a setting for town meetings and, until 1940, for gatherings of the Bethel Grange which disbanded that year.”

The building eventually became known, colloquially, as The Beehive, an apartment building, that was torn down in 1978.

In February of 1866 this place had already been set apart, as residents listened to trailblazer, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, enlighten and inform them.

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