Today we celebrate noted poet, columnist, diarist, and activist Alice Dunbar Nelson. Born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans in 1875, she graduated from Dillard University in 1892 and began a career in teaching. Shortly before moving to New York in 1895, she published her first collection of poems and short stories,Violets and Other Tales. She began a correspondence with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and moved to Washington, DC in 1898 to marry him. Dunbar was uncomfortable with his wife’s bisexuality and same-sex affairs and they separated by 1902.
She moved to Wilmington, DE at this point, returning to teaching and writing. She married journalist Robert J. Nelson in 1910. In 1915, Alice Dunbar Nelson worked as a field organizer in her region for woman’s suffrage. During World War I, she served with the Women’s Commission on the Council of National Defense and the Circle of Negro War Relief. She helped found the Industrial School for Colored Girls in Delaware, organized for anti-lynching reforms, and served 1928-1931 as executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee.
From about 1920 on, she made a commitment to journalism and was a highly successful columnist, with articles, essays and reviews appearing as well in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. She was a popular speaker and had an active schedule of lectures through these years. She also engaged in the arts and literature boom known as the Harlem Renaissance, a movement which included such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. She died in 1935 at the age of 60.