One of America's first black female novelists soon will be honored on the Susquehanna River Walk.
On Tuesday, county community development planner Rachelle Ricotta asked the county commissioners to consider an agreement with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that will allow a historical marker to be installed on the river walk commemorating the life of Julia C. Collins.
The agreement is needed because the county is building and maintaining the river walk and must give its approval for the marker to be installed there, Ricotta said.
Collins was a Williamsport resident who wrote "Curse of Caste: or the Slave Bride," which is considered one of the first, if not the first novel, written by a black woman in the United States.
The novel was serialized in 1865 in The Christian Recorder, the national newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to information provided by the Thomas T. Taber Museum.
Very little is known about Collins, according to the museum. There is no record of where she was born, whether she was born slave or free, where she was educated, her maiden name or where she is buried.
However, what is known is that Collins, a school teacher, lived in Williamsport at least from April 1864 until her death from tuberculosis in November 1865.
Collins died just before the novel was completed, according to the Barnes & Noble Web site, which also claims the novel to be the first by a black woman in the United States.
In 2006, the novel was published for the first time in book form with alternate endings - one hopeful, the other tragic - written by its publishers, William L. Andrew, professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Mitch Kachun, associate professor of history at Western Michigan University.
The edition also contains six essays written by Collins and published in The Christian Recorder.
The Lycoming County Historical Society applied to the state commission for the marker, according to museum executive director Sandy Rife.
Rife said Mary Sieminski, who was working with others on a women's history project, came up with the idea of applying to the commission for the marker.
"The (commission) has certain guidelines that (a person's impact) has to be more than local, whether statewide or national," Rife said.
Rife said Collins, whose work was published nationally, met that criteria.
Although the exact location of Collins' residence is not known, it is likely she lived near the river, possibly in a neighborhood where Wegmans is located, Rife said. For that reason, the River Walk seemed to be the best place to put the marker, she said.
The marker will be the first in Lycoming County to honor a black woman, she said.
Having the marker on a pedestrian path, as opposed to along a highway, will allow more people to see it, Rife said.
It will cost about $1,600 to make and install the marker, all of which probably will have to be covered by the county historical society, Rife said.
Collins' book is for sale in the museum store, Rife said.
According to the Barnes and Noble Web site, the book centers on a biracial mother and daughter "whose opportunities for fulfillment through love and marriage are threatened by slavery and caste prejudice."
The novel's publication "contributes immensely to our understanding of black American literature, religion, women's history, community life, and race relations during the era of United States emancipation," it said.