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Fri, 07.08.1814

Sarah Forten Purvis, Poet born

*The birth of Sarah Forten Purvis is celebrated on this date in 1814. She was a Black poet and abolitionist. Sarah Louisa Forten was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was one of the "Forten Sisters," which included Harriet and Margaretta.

Her mother was Charlotte Vandine Forten, and her father was the Black abolitionist James Forten. Her sisters were Harriet Forten Purvis and Margaretta Forten. Sarah Louisa Forten Purvis and her sisters received a private education and were members of the Female Literary Association, a sisterhood of Black women founded by Sarah Mapps Douglass. Forten Purvis was a poet and began her literary legacy through this organization, where she anonymously developed essays and poems.

The three sisters and their mother were founders of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. This society was vital because of its role in the origins of American Feminism. She has used the pen names "Ada" and "Magawisca" and her name. She wrote many poems about the experience of slavery and womanhood. Forten Purvis's most well-known works include "An Appeal to Woman" and "The Grave of the Slave." Both of which were published in the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.

The poem "The Grave of the Slave" was subsequently set to music by Frank Johnson, and the song was an anthem at anti-slavery gatherings. Also, "An Appeal to Woman" was utilized in the pamphlets for the Anti-Slavery Convention of New York in 1837. Forten Purvis's poetic contributions to feminist activism were a contribution to intersectionality. For example, Forten Purvis's Poem "An Appeal to Women" is identified through the lens of race and womanhood within Janet Gray's book "Race and Time" (2004). Gray suggests that what makes this poem inherently intersectional in its feminism is Forten Purvis's identification of the plurality of being Black and female compared to the lived experience of being a white woman.

Additionally, this poem makes mention of the self-objectification of white women's "fairness" as synonymous with their social value, and as opposed to the agency of black women as something more than merely "fairness" (Fairness in this case as related to complexion). Forten Purvis's poem conversely plays on white women's "fairness" as a "virtue" or, more contemporarily put, a mark of privilege and further calls for white women to use their "virtue" for activism in defense of their Black sisters.

It is suggested that Forten Purvis's poetry transforms the female listener into an agent of change. On prejudice, Forten Purvis believed that all people, regardless of gender, were responsible for acting as political catalysts in abolishing slavery. This is evidenced by her letter to Angelina Grimke, written on April 15th of 1837. It specified that men or women were to be equal contributors to the cause and that women, regardless of their political oppressions condition at the time, must consider their "sisters" and act upon this consideration.

Forten Purvis also made Sketch contributions to the imagery of the emblem as a sketch in Elizabeth Stanton's album. Misattribution of some works as identified, some of Forten Purvis's works may have been under the pen names of "Ada" or "Magawisca." According to some scholars, a Quaker abolitionist, Eliza Earle Hacker (1807-1846), from Rhode Island, had been the author of what many thought to be some of Forten Purvis's work. Motherhood and Daughterhood within the context of slavery are examples of Forten Purvis's poetry.

Though Forten Purvis was never oppressed through the chattel slavery system, her poetry extensively made examples of the anguish within the experience of being enslaved as a woman of African descent. The notion of cultural kinship was present within much of her poetry. Examples of the experience of racism as informed by the experience of womanhood are in "An Appeal to Women," "The Slave Girl's Address to her Mother," "A Mother's Grief," and "The Slave Girl's Farewell."

In 1838 she married Joseph Purvis, with whom she had eight children, including William B. Purvis. Joseph Purvis was Robert Purvis' brother and the husband of her sister Harriet. Sarah Purvis, an important figure in abolitionism and feminism, is said to have died in 1883. Some works about her life and poetry state she died in 1857. This discrepancy may be related to the misattribution of some of her poems.

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