February 5 - Face to Face for the First Time

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On February 5, 1897, Paul Laurence Dunbar met his future wife Alice Ruth Moore in person for the first time.  Paul was in New York City where he was about to set sail for England.  A farewell party was given for him by Virginia Earle Matthews, an African American journalist and social reformer.

The friends and admirers of Paul L. Dunbar, who gathered at the residence of Mrs. V. E. Matthews last Friday evening to bid the poet farewell in anticipation of his sailing for England on Saturday, were participants in an event which will be a pleasant recollection for many years to come.

"Paul Laurence Dunbar."  The New York Age (New York, New York).  February 11, 1897.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, who is one of the latest and brightest lights to appear in the literary firmament, has signed a contract to travel three years in Europe and read his productions, after which he will make a tour of this country.

"Colored Items."  Xenia Daily Gazette (Xenia, Ohio).  February 6, 1897.  Page 7.

Paul and Alice had been communicating by mail for nearly two years, but had never met.  Alice was concerned that she would miss her opportunity to see him in person, so she abruptly left her home in the Boston area to attend his farewell party.  Many years later, she wrote about the incident in an autobiographical short story.

February came and he was going abroad for a year.  He had a lecture contract and was pathetic about having to delay seeing his "Dream Girl" for another year.  I was torn between love and uncertainty.  What if I should never see him?  What if he should forget me in Europe?  I knew that I adored him madly.  Torn between doubt and desire, I was shaken to my inmost heart.  That night found me boarding the midnight train for the unknown glories of New York.

"No Sacrifice," by Alice Dunbar-Nelson.  The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Volume 3.  Edited by Gloria T. Hull.  Oxford University Press (New York, New York).  1988.  Pages 204 - 205.

On the night they met at the farewell party, Paul and Alice became engaged.  A few days later, while aboard a steamship on the Atlantic Ocean, Paul shared the news in a letter to his mother Matilda.

You will be surprised to hear that Alice Ruth Moore ran off from Boston and came to New York to see me off.  The half has not been told.  She is [the] sweetest, smartest little girl I ever saw and she took everything by storm.  She was very much ashamed of having run off, but she said that she could not have me gone for a year without once seeing me.  Now don't laugh, but Alice and I are engaged.  You know this is what I have longed for for a year.  I know that you won't object to this.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, February 10, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

A year later, Paul and Alice were still engaged but had no definite date for a wedding.  He lived in Washington, D. C., and worked at the Library of Congress;  she was a public school teacher in Brooklyn.  In a letter to Paul, Alice wrote about her fond recollection of their engagement, but she was wrong about the date.

Think, dearest, this day one year ago I left Boston to come here to see you.  Tomorrow is the anniversary of our engagement.  I wish I could have a sweet letter from you for the day.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 3, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

In his response, Paul corrected Alice's error and revealed intimate details about the night of their engagement.

No, my darling, you are mistaken.  Tomorrow, Saturday, is the anniversary of your trip to New York and our engagement.  You came on the 5th and I sailed on the 6th.  Darling, I bless that night a year ago that gave you to me.  Shall I ever forget that warm room in the old house on Murray Street, the soft crimson light and the flower face of the girl whom all the years my heart had been waiting for?  Shall I forget our first kiss and the promise I won from you then?  Oh Alice, Alice, my heart leaps even now as I remember it all.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 4, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).