January 28 - Unlicensed Marriage Counselors

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On January 28, 1902, a friend of Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote to Alice Moore Dunbar, asking her to reconcile with her husband.  After a violent separation a few days earlier, Paul had gone to New York City while Alice remained in Washington, D. C.

Dear Mrs. Dunbar, I am a stranger to you, but your husband is a friend of mine and whatever wrong he has done he is paying the penalty now.  My house and its humble convenience is at your command and he is stopping with my friend Mr. Dilly.  Don't you think it's wise to come and rescue him?  His only thought is of you.  Paul is here now.  Say nothing to anyone, but I think your pressure and influence will do him good.  If thy erring brother sin, forgive him.  He is sick now.  Hope to have the pleasure of seeing you soon.

Dr. W. H. McKenley to Alice Moore Dunbar, January 28, 1902.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Dr. McKenley was president of the Afro-American Medical Society of New York City.  In the weeks that followed, Alice received similar appeals from Paul's friend Sallie Brown, his half-brother Robert Murphy, his mother Matilda, and the composer Will Marion Cook.

I have just met Paul in the street.  Paul has just told me that it's all over between you, that he has been a scoundrel, that he has treated you infamously, and that now you have given him up.  He is going to kill himself.  He stood there on 6th Avenue and cried.  Now, my darling Alice, I ask you for God's sake to come to him.  Remember dear, you took him for better or worse.  It has turned out for the worse but do not desert him.  Alice, quietly go to him and both of you leave the city.  Why not go down to Atlantic City until it has all blown over?  I ask you as a friend to you both, knowing how you love each other, not to let anything or anyone come between you.  If you could have seen him as I just left him, you would take the next train.

Sarah "Sallie" Brown to Alice Moore Dunbar, February 7, 1902.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Have just heard the entire story of your trouble and am very sorry for you, but can't do much at long range.  Alice, you had better come to Chicago for a while and let me adjust matters between you two.  Just come on to my house and leave all the rest to me, and come at once as I am writing Paul by this mail now.  Let me say this in all kindness, as your future may depend on this.  Let no false pride stand in the way.  I'm with you, just come to me and I'll do the rest.

Robert S. Murphy to Alice Moore Dunbar, February 12, 1902.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

I received your sad letter and was horrified at it.  My heart is broke.  What can I do?  Will you come to me so that we can have a talk?  Alice, this must not be.  This cannot go that way and we want you to come here.  Have you heard anything from Paul?  I wish this thing had not happened.  Now Alice, you have always been kind to me, and never refused me any favor I have asked you.  Now I do ask you to meet and try to become reconciled with Paul.  Try to adjust matters, for things must not go on this way.  Think over what I asked you.

Matilda Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, February 13, 1902.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Paul's case in plain language stands thus:  He has weakened his physical and mental powers by drink, worry and overwork.  He has just had a slight touch of paresis, but the specialists (and you can rest assured that I got the best in New York) assure me that he is O.K. now.  He is improving rapidly in a sanitarium where I placed him.  The next attack, however, the Doctors assure me, means a fate worse than death.  You know, better than anyone else, that no one has any influence upon Paul.  But Paul is a great man, by all odds the greatest Negro America has yet seen, and I and all other Negroes hate to see him go the road that to him is inevitable.  I believe that you can save Paul and in the language of the stage, "it's up to you."  Now your relations with Paul, of course, are best known to yourself.  I never inquire into his private affairs and only know that he needs and wants you.

Will Marion Cook to Alice Moore Dunbar, April 18, 1902.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

After months with no contact, Paul sent Alice a brief telegram.

Will you overlook everything and come to New York?  Answer at once.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, April 12, 1902.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Alice ignored Paul's message, along with similar letters and telegrams he sent during the remaining four years of his life.  She described her feelings in a letter to Lida Keck Wiggins, Paul's first biographer.

After he had come to himself, he began to write asking me to return to him.  He sent for me, had physicians telegraph me that he was dying, and used every means in his power to get me to come back to him.  But I was genuinely afraid of him, and disgusted too, for this was only a culmination of the misery of four bitter years.

Alice Moore Dunbar to Lida Keck Wiggins, August 7, 1906.  Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library (Newark, Delaware).  MSS 0113, Box 5, F134.

Alice later wrote autobiographical stories describing her relationship with Paul.  In one account, the main character Marion marries a famous writer named Courtland.  After they separate, Marion resists Courtland's efforts at reconciliation.

After the first year, Courtland's friends began to lay bets as to how long the separation would last.  Courtland had been indifferent when the break came;  later he stormed, threatened, and demanded his wife.  Then he pled and wrote her letters that she might read one every day, wherein he begged forgiveness and promised reform.  He fell ill and lay at death's door, while physicians telegraphed Marion frantically, assuring her that Courtland's only chances for recovery lay in her presence at his bedside.  Marion read all the letters, signing for the registered ones with a smile of contempt.  She answered with silence his almost threatening demands.  She treated the physicians' appeal with the same disdain.

"The Decision," by Alice Moore Dunbar.  Published in The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Volume 3, edited by Gloria T. Hull.  Oxford University Press (New York, New York).  1988.  Page 199.