Alice Dunbar Nelson was a teacher and writer from New Orleans, praised for her activism and poetry. A graduate of Dillard University, she would publish her first book in 1895 called Violets and Other Tales, a Collection of Short Stories.
She used her Creole background as a topic for many of her stories and became a figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
Overall, Dunbar Nelson would present four novels, two volumes of oratory, dramas, newspaper columns, two collections of essays, poems, short stories and reviews. But in between her collections, she would marry three times – first to the famous poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The couple, both known writers of the time, were celebrities on the East Coast.
However, Dunbar was said to be violent toward his wife and in one incident, left her in a Washington, D.C., hospital where she nearly died. It also was said that his anger was fueled by her relationships with women.
After their separation, Dunbar Nelson moved to Delaware. She would marry a second time, after Paul Laurence Dunbar passed away in 1906, then divorce and marry a third time to political activist Robert Nelson.
Dunbar Nelson would write about her challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field. During World War I, Dunbar Nelson worked as a field representative of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. Later, she served on the State Republican Committee of Delaware and for three years, she served as executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee.
She and her husband, Robert, founded the Wilmington Advocate newspaper before her death in 1935.
Trailblazers is a column that highlights the contributions of African-Americans.