February 24 - The Passing of Mother Dunbar

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On February 24, 1934, Matilda Dunbar, the mother of Paul Laurence Dunbar, died in Dayton.  Her exact birthdate is unknown, but she lived into her late 80s.  After Paul's death in 1906, Matilda spent her remaining years at the house they had shared, preserving his library and legacy.

Death of Mrs. Dunbar occurred yesterday morning at 4:30 o'clock, following a serious illness of a month.  She was born in slavery, just outside the village of Shelbyville, in Fayette county, Kentucky, about 89 years ago, and remained in bondage until the close of the Civil War.  When Mrs. Dunbar came to Dayton following the Civil War, she was determined to have an education, so she attended night school while she worked as a laundress during the day.  She was furiously determined that her children should have all the educational advantages denied her in her own youth.  Paul was sent through the grade schools and high school, from which he graduated.  Following the death of Paul in 1906 and until her failing health made it impossible for her to do so, Mrs. Dunbar personally cared for the study and library of her son, which, except for the addition of many objects of remembrance, remained practically as he had left it.  Mrs. Dunbar was a bright conversationalist, an incessant reader and a lover of all that was beautiful in all lines of artistic endeavor.  One of the greatest thrills of her later life was the visits she made to the Dunbar school when the cornerstone was laid and when it was dedicated.

"Final Tributes Will Be Paid to Mrs. Dunbar in Public Service."  The Dayton Journal (Dayton, Ohio).  February 25, 1934.  Page 12.

Known as "Mother Dunbar," Matilda was beloved by the Dayton community.  Her funeral was well attended and she was honored by many of the city's leaders.

White and Negro pastors, civic leaders, educators and others paid fitting tribute Tuesday to the woman born in slavery, Mrs. Matilda J. Dunbar, mother of Dayton's poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, at her funeral services held at the Dunbar High School.  While the body lay in state at the school from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. faculty members and boy and girl scouts acted as a guard of honor.

"Civic Leaders Take Part in Dunbar Rites."  The Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio).  February 27, 1934.  Page 11.

Dayton paid loving tribute to Mrs. Matilda J. Dunbar, mother of the late Paul Laurence Dunbar, at funeral services at Dunbar High School Tuesday afternoon.  Hundreds of persons went to the school while the body lay in state and passed by the bier.  At least 2000 of them filled every available chair in the auditorium and on the stage.  Many others could approach no nearer than the corridors.  Sound amplifiers, however, had been installed in cafeteria and gymnasium to accommodate the overflow.  Mayor Charles J. Brennan in his address stressed that the heights which Paul Laurence Dunbar attained in the world of literature were but a reflection of the hopes and yearnings of his mother.

"As Final Tribute Was Paid Mrs. Dunbar."  The Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio).  February 28, 1934.  Page 4.

Matilda was buried at Woodland Cemetery near the grave of her son Paul.

Grave of Matilda Dunbar