February 7 - The Wrong Part of Town

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On February 7, 1898, Sallie Brown in New York City wrote a letter to her friend Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., about where he might stay during an upcoming visit to the city.  Sallie mentioned the names of some mutual friends, and then suggested he contact Virginia Earle Matthews, an African American journalist and social reformer.  A year earlier, Matthews had hosted a farewell party for Paul before he sailed to England.

I am very sure if Mrs. Jarvis was home she would receive you with open arms, but she is still in Richmond.  I think if you drop Miss Ferrell a line she could make you comfortable.  I never see her anymore nor hear from her, but as you tell me you are so abnormally good nowadays, why don't you write to Mrs. Matthews to get you a place in Brooklyn?  To tell you the truth, dear, I think it would be much the best.  You would be near Alice and away from the Tenderloin, which I am afraid has a demoralizing effect on you.

Sarah "Sallie" Brown to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 7, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Sallie's letter referred to Alice Ruth Moore, Paul's fiancée, who lived with Matthews.  Sallie warned Paul to avoid the Tenderloin District, an area in New York known for gambling, drinking and other vices.

There are 25,000 opium smokers in the city of New York alone.  The Tenderloin district fell an early victim to opium.  That part of the population which is known as the sporting class adopted the habit quickly.  Cheap actors, race track touts, gamblers and the different kinds of confidence men took to it generally.  Opium raised its yellow banner over the Tenderloin, attaining the dignity of a common vice.

"They Who Smoke Opium," by Stephen Crane.  The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri).  May 17, 1896.  Page 16.

Capt. Chapman, recently put in command of the Nineteenth Precinct, began clearing the Tenderloin district of gamblers yesterday.  His men, cooperating with Central Office detectives, arrested during the afternoon ten alleged policy room keepers.

"Chapman Raids Policy Shops."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  June 13, 1896.  Page 5.

In response to Sallie's suggestion, Paul wrote to Alice in Brooklyn about his plans.

I expect to start for New York Thursday evening as soon as [the] Library closes and I hope to see you that night if I do not get in too late.  Don't know yet where I shall stop.  Sallie writes that I should ask Mrs. Matthews to get me a place in Brooklyn so as to keep me away from the Tenderloin.  What do you think of it?

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

Alice was also very concerned that Paul keep away from the Tenderloin District and insisted he stay in a reputable hotel.

Now I don't want you to go anywhere in the neighborhood of the Tenderloin to stop.  "Don't want" sounds preemptory, but it's my deepest heart feeling.  It's time, dearest, you were taking some decently dignified stand in the world and cutting loose from that gang that drags you down and causes us both unhappiness.  I want you to stop at a first-class hotel, won't you?  There is the Astor House down Broadway, the Albert House, University Place and scores of others not anywheres near the Tenderloin.  There ought to be some in Brooklyn.  But they must be first-class white hostelries.  Will you do this for my sake, for our sakes?

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