Pauline Hopkins

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Pauline Hopkins
Hopkins circa 1901
Hopkins circa 1901
BornPauline Elizabeth Hopkins
Portland, Maine
DiedAugust 13, 1930
Cambridge, Massachusetts
GenreRomance novel

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859 – August 13, 1930) was a prominent African-American novelist, journalist, playwright, historian, and editor. She is considered a pioneer in her use of the romantic novel to explore social and racial themes.

Early life[edit]

Hopkins was born to Northrop Hopkins (also reported as Benjamin Northup) and Sarah A. Hopkins (née Allen) in Portland, Maine, and grew up in Boston, Massachusetts.[1] Her father was influential in Providence, Rhode Island, due to his political ties and her mother was a native of Exeter, New Hampshire. Though he was not her biological father, William Hopkins was regarded by Pauline as her father, hence her surname.[2]

Hopkins' mother, Sarah Allen, was married for a short time to Benjamin Northup and it is from said union that she was born. Allegations of infidelity led to Allen filing for divorce and shortly afterwards she met and married.

The high-achieving Hopkins household encouraged Pauline academically, which led her to develop an appreciation for literature. In 1874, after completing her second year at Girls High School, she entered an essay contest held by the Congregational Publishing Society of Boston and funded by former slave, novelist, and dramatist William Wells Brown. Her submission, "Evils of Intemperance and Their Remedy", highlighted the problems with intemperance and urged parents to be in control of their children's social upbringing. She placed first in the contest, won $10 in gold, and was honored by the judges for her excellent writing skills.

She became well known for her various roles as a dramatist, actress and singer. In March 1877, she participated in her first dramatic performance, Pauline Western, the Belle of Saratoga. After this, she acted in several other plays, which all received great reviews. However, it was not until the beginning of the 1900s that she decided to focus more on her literary passions.

Literary career[edit]

Her first known work, a musical play called Slaves’ Escape; or, The Underground Railroad (later revised as Peculiar Sam; or, The Underground Railroad), first performed in 1880. Her short story "Talma Gordon", published in 1900, is often named as the first African-American mystery story. She explored the difficulties faced by African-Americans amid the racist violence of post-Civil War America in her first novel, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South, published in 1900. She published three serial novels between 1901 and 1903 in the African-American periodical Colored American Magazine: Hagar's Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice, Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest, and Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self. She sometimes used the pseudonym Sarah A. Allen. Pauline Hopkins was beginning to make a reputation for herself. As a result of this, she was offered the opportunity to become a member of the board of directors, a shareholder and a creditor of the Colored American Magazine. Along with her writing, she helped to increase subscriptions and raise funding for the magazine. These roles alone helped her break into the literary world, with her work making up a substantial amount of the literary and historical materials promoted by the magazine.

After her involvement with the Colored American Magazine, Hopkins published four additional stories and serialized three novels, Hagar's Daughter: A Story of Caste Prejudice, Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest, and Of One Blood; or The Hidden Self, in the Colored American Magazine. Her work has been regarded among other notable African-American writers at the time such as Charles Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Sutton Griggs by Richard Yarborough. In relation to women's publications, Yarborough calls her "the single most productive black woman writer at the turn of the century."[3]

Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self is the last of four novels written by Pauline Hopkins. She is considered by some to be the most prolific African-American woman writer and the most influential literary editor of the first decade of the 20th century, though she is lesser known than many literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self first appeared in serial form in The Colored American Magazine in the November and December 1902 and the January 1903 issues of the publication, during the four-year period in which Hopkins served as its editor. Elements of the work have been compared to Goethe's Faust.[4]

Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self tells the story of Reuel Briggs, a medical student who does not care about being black or appreciating African history but finds himself in Ethiopia on an archaeological trip. His motive is to raid the country of lost treasures, which he does find. However, he discovers much more than he expected: the painful truth about blood, race, and the half of his history that was never told. Hopkins wrote the novel intending, in her own words, to "raise the stigma of degradation from [the Black] race." The title, Of One Blood, refers to the biological kinship of all human beings.

In 1988, Oxford University Press released The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers with Professor Henry Louis Gates as the general editor of the series. Hopkins' novel Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (with an introduction by Richard Yarborough) was reprinted as a part of this series. Her magazine novels (with an introduction by Hazel Carby) were also reprinted as a part of this series. Carby did this as a way to reintroduce Hopkins into the sphere and see how her literature influenced writers in the past, present and now future.


Despite the climate of racism and other social injustices going on during this time, Hopkins made her voice, especially the black voice, known throughout history. She was fearful of the consequences of her actions, but also knew it was necessary for the world to know the struggles of being black in the United States in the 1900s. Other scholars, including Hopkins, have accredited her boldness in her writing on behalf of her parents and the example they set for her. "The Northup legacy that Pauline Hopkins would claim as her own was one of impressive public action, fearless civic ambition and strong community consciousness."[2]


Hopkins spent the remainder of her years working as a stenographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from burns sustained in a house fire.

Published works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930) •". 22 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Lois (2008). Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807831663.
  3. ^ Gruesser, John Cullen (1996). The Unruly Voice: Rediscovering Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252065545.
  4. ^ "‘Into the high ancestral spaces’: Pauline Hopkins` Of One Blood and Goethe's Faust", Sabine Isabell Engwer, Free University of Berlin, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ann Allen Shockley (1972). "Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: A Biographical Excursion into Obscurity". Phylon. Clark Atlanta University. 33 (1): 22–26. doi:10.2307/273429. JSTOR 273429.
  • Campbell, Jane. Mythic Black Fiction: The Transformation of History. Knoxville, TN: 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 A. Afro-American Women Writers, 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1988.
  • Gruesser, John C. ed. The Unruly Voice: Rediscovering Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Allen, Carol. Black Women Intellectuals: Strategies of Nation, Family, and Neighborhood in the Works of Pauline Hopkins, Jessie Fauset, and Marita Bonner. New York: Garland, 1998.
  • Gabler-Hover, Janet. Dreaming Black/Writing White: The Hagar Myth in American Cultural History. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2000.
  • Wallinger, Hanna. Pauline E. Hopkins: A Literary Biography. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005.
  • Sigrid Anderson Cordell, "'The Case Was Very Black against' Her: Pauline Hopkins and the Politics of Racial Ambiguity at the Colored American Magazine," American Periodicals, vol. 16, no. 1 (2006), pp. 52-73. In JSTOR
  • Dworkin, Ira, ed. Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline E. Hopkins. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007.
  • Brown, Lois. Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
  • Knight, Alisha R. Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream: An African American Writer's (Re)Visionary Gospel of Success. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2012.
  • Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 6: Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide.

External links[edit]