On January 19, 1901, Whitefield McKinlay, a Black businessman and real estate agent in Washington, D. C., wrote to Paul Laurence Dunbar about a property available in the city. Paul's initial response to him was unenthusiastic.
In reply to your note of the 19th I would say that Mrs. Dunbar and I have had a talk over the matter and we both feel somewhat fearful of undertaking so large a venture as buying the Davis house. Therefore it is scarcely worthwhile for us to go over it. I thank you, however, for your kindness in getting permission.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Whitefield McKinlay, January 21, 1901. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
About five months earlier, Alice Strange Davis, a music teacher who was a friend of the Dunbars, had died. McKinlay's correspondence with Paul was likely in regard to her former home on T Street in Washington.
Wednesday night the advanced class of Mrs. Alice Strange Davis gave the third of a series of musicales at her residence, 1320 T Street northwest.
"In Musical Circles." The Evening Star (Washington, D. C.). May 8, 1897. Page 24.
At the time, Paul was living on Spruce Street with his wife Alice and mother Matilda. Even before they got married, Alice was concerned about living in a small house.
Will six rooms do? It would if we were to live alone, but if your mother is to be with us, you know it wouldn't ever do. I don't think eight would make such a difference, would it?
Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, October 10, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
Two months after telling McKinlay he wasn't interested in the house, Paul went on an extended trip to Jacksonville, Florida. While he was gone, Alice told him that her "country cousin" (or menstrual period) was delayed, hinting that she might be pregnant. She referred to their sexual relations using code words: "Sir Peter" and "Miss Venus."
I am feeling lazy tonight -- chronic, I know you will say. But, oh hubbins mine, don't I wish I could hug you now and snuggle down to bed with you. Say, that reminds me. I should have had a visit from my country cousin, you know what I mean, on the 19th and she hasn't shown up. I don't know what's the matter? You know Sir Peter called on Miss Venus so seldom within the past weeks. "Seldom visits make long friends." I have no doubt but that having confided this much to you my country cousin will arrive on the first train tomorrow. How is Sir Peter? Tomorrow will be two weeks since he and Miss Venus had a visit together and she has been making some solicitous inquiries as to his health. Oh, isn't this a naughty letter? It is the wickedest yet. I'd better tear it up for fear someone will see it.
Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, March 23, 1901. Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library (Newark, Delaware). MSS 0113, Box 4, F91.
Alice also told Paul she was jealous of her sister Leila's children and wanted one of her own. She mentioned Dr. Parsons, a gynecologist who served as Alice's fertility coach.
I had a letter from Leila today, telling me how she and Tootins have had a good time all winter sledding together, she pulling Tootins, rosy and red-cloaked all over the village on a sled, while Tootins would sing at the top of her voice. Then she was teaching her to skate and push her down hills in her sled. When she wrote me she and Tootins had just come in from a game of marbles. She is teaching Tootins to shoot them like a boy. Oh dear, how envious her letter made me feel. Dr. Parsons says I'm all right. Why don't we have babies? I want a little boy who can wear little clothes like his papa, raglan and little shirts and collars.
Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, March 25, 1901. Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library (Newark, Delaware). MSS 0113, Box 4, F92.
Paul seemed happy to hear that his family might be growing. He wrote to Whitefield McKinlay again, saying he was willing to purchase the house right away, and he asked Alice to keep him informed about the property.
I am willing to take the Davis house at $5000 and close the deal at once. Kindly show this to Mr. Richards and let me hear immediately.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Whitefield McKinlay, no date . Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).
Keep your eyes on the Davis house and wire me any developments that may take place. I am going to send you forty dollars tomorrow to deposit or use as you need.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, March 24, 1901. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
I am lonesome for you and especially at night when I go up to my room all alone, with nobody to snuggle with. Hope the old country cousin will not appear and that you will know something definite by the time I get home.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, March 25, 1901. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
In her response, Alice suggested it might be better if they looked for a different house. Ultimately, she was not pregnant and the Dunbars remained on Spruce Street until they separated permanently ten months later.
Haven't heard anything more about the Davis house. I went over to Aunt Bella's today to "rubber." There is no news. She mulled about as usual. She seems to have the idea in her head that the property down in Lynchburg can be sold and the mortgage raised off the T. St. house. In fact she rants and then says they can't do anything. I am disgusted. I wonder if we hadn't better give up the idea and look about for a new house, [a] nice clean one.
Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, March 26, 1901. Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library (Newark, Delaware). MSS 0113, Box 4, F92.