Nelson, Alice Moore Dunbar, 1875-1935

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Alice Dunbar-Nelson, a writer, teacher, and activist for African-American Civil rights, was extremely active in state and regional politics. She was married to the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar from 1989 until 1902. She was born on July 19, 1875, as Alice Ruth Moore, in New Orleans, Louisiana. She attended public school in New Orleans and enrolled in a teacher's training program at Straight University in 1890. Upon receiving her degree in 1892, she began teaching in New Orleans.

Alice Ruth Moore's first book, Violets and Other Tales, a collection of stories, was published in 1895. In 1897, Moore moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she taught at the White Rose Mission. At this time Moore began corresponding with the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and in March, 8, 1898, she married Dunbar and moved to Washington, D.C. The marriage lasted until 1902, when they were legally separated; Dunbar died on February 6, 1906.

Following her separation from Paul Laurence Dunbar, Alice Dunbar moved to Wilmington, Delaware. She took a position as a teacher and administrator at Howard High School which she held until 1920. During this period she also directed the summer session for in-service teachers at State College for Colored Students (the predecessor of Delaware State College) in Dover, and taught two years in the summer session at the Hampton Institute. In 1907, she took a leave of absence from her teaching position in Wilmington and enrolled as a student at Cornell University, returning to Wilmington in 1908. In April, 1916, Alice Dunbar married Robert J. Nelson, a journalist, politician, and civil rights activist.

Although Alice Dunbar-Nelson had been active in social, political, and cultural organizations since her youth, this involvement increased around the time of her marriage to Robert Nelson. She was extremely active in Delaware and regional politics, as well as in the emerging civil rights and women's suffrage movements. In 1915, she was field organizer for the Middle Atlantic States in the campaign for women's suffrage. During World War I, Dunbar-Nelson served as a field representative of the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense. Subsequently she served on the State Republican Committee of Delaware and helped direct political activities among black women. From 1928–1931, she was executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee.

From 1920–1922, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, together with Robert Nelson, was co-editor and publisher of the Wilmington Advocate, a progressive Black newspaper. From this period on, Dunbar-Nelson maintained an active career as a journalist. She was a highly successful syndicated columnist and wrote numerous reviews and essays for newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. Dunbar-Nelson also continued to write stories, poems, plays, and novels, much of which remains unpublished.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Alice Dunbar-Nelson's prominence as a political and social activist reached its high point. She reached a wide audience through her journalism; she was also in demand as a public speaker and gave numerous lectures and speeches on political, social, and cultural topics. Alice Dunbar-Nelson's life and career during this period is documented in detail in her diaries. Although Alice Dunbar-Nelson appears to have maintained a daily diary for most of her adult life, surviving portions bulk for the period 1921–1931. These surviving examples offer a comprehensive look at Dunbar-Nelson's daily activities for the most productive period of her career.

In 1932, Alice Dunbar-Nelson moved from Delaware to Philadelphia when Robert Nelson took a position as a member of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission. By this time Alice Dunbar-Nelson's health had begun to deteriorate and she was frequently ill. In September, 1935, she was admitted to the hospital with a heart ailment from which she did not recover. Alice Dunbar-Nelson died on September 18, 1935, at the age of sixty.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Rosenstock autograph collection, 1800-1950 L. Tom Perry Special Collections20th Century Western & Mormon Manuscripts
referencedIn Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 1872-1906. Paul L. Dunbar Collection 1890-to present. Dayton Metro Library
referencedIn George S. Schuyler Papers, 1912-1976. Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
creatorOf Dunbar-Nelson, Alice Moore, 1875-1935. Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, 1895-1942. University of Delaware Library, Hugh M Morris Library
referencedIn Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. Office of the President records, 1904-1980. Cheyney University, L. P. Hill Library
referencedIn Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, 1890-2001 Dayton Metro Library
referencedIn Braithwaite, William Stanley, 1878-1962. William Stanley Braithwaite collection, 1899-1939. Morgan State University
referencedIn Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 1872-1906. Paul Laurence Dunbar collection, 1892-1902. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Bates, Josephine W. (Josephine White). Letter, envelope, and a portrait, 1895. Harold B. Lee Library
creatorOf Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, 1895–1942 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
referencedIn Callis, Henry Arthur, 1887-1974. Henry A. Callis papers, 1888-1974 (bulk 1905-1974). Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
referencedIn Young, Pauline A., 1900-1991. Pauline A. Young Papers. Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library
referencedIn Stuart, Alice Jackson, 1913-2001. Papers of Alice Jackson Stuart [manuscript], 1930-2001. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949. Papers, 1872-1949 Houghton Library
referencedIn Cullen, Countee, 1903-1946. Papers. 1921-1979. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
Harlem Renaissance


Birth 1875-07-19

Death 1935-09-18





Ark ID: w68x43r7

SNAC ID: 84474059