On June 18, 1893, Jennie O'Neill Potter, a well-known elocutionist, wrote a note to Paul Laurence Dunbar on stationery from the Palmer House, a hotel in Chicago. Paul was 20 years old and in Chicago to seek employment and a broader audience for his writings at the World's Columbian Exposition.
I was sorry to postpone my entertainment, but it is on the night of a great social affair and besides the Fair is opened. If you can appear for me on the 21st Wednesday night I shall be very much pleased.
Jennie O'Neill Potter to Paul Laurence Dunbar, June 18, 1893. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).
In her note, Potter apologized for rescheduling an event at which Paul was to appear alongside her. Originally planned for June 15th, it was postponed to the 21st.
Miss Jennie O'Neill Potter, the monologuist, will appear on Thursday evening next at Kimball hall. She will be assisted by George MacDonald, violinist; Paul Laurence Dunbar, the colored poet, and the Linden quartet.
"Theatrical Gossip." The Sunday Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois). June 11, 1893. Page 29.
In a letter to his mother Matilda in Dayton, Paul described his initial meeting with Potter. He brought her a copy of his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy.
More good fortune: I got a letter from Mrs. Selby saying to go down to the Palmer House, that Miss Jennie O'Neill Potter, the young woman who recited with Riley, wanted to see me. I went and took my book along. She was delighted with it and I am to recite with her next week at a very aristocratic Hall down in the city. Surely Heaven is blessing me. It is not money yet, but it means money in the future.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, June 6, 1893. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).
Paul's letter referred to James Whitcomb Riley, known as the "Hoosier poet," who was an early source of inspiration and encouragement to him. Riley and Potter had appeared together in Chicago a few weeks earlier.
James Whitcomb Riley will be welcomed by a great crowd at Central Music Hall tonight. They will go to hear him because they know that he has the power to conjure up bits of rural scenery, scraps of rural life, and touching flashes in the humdrum of rural existence. With Mr. Riley this evening will be Jennie O'Neill Potter, the monologue artist. She is, as all Chicago knows, in first rank of dialect readers and impersonators.
"Hoosier Poet Tonight." The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois). May 11, 1893. Page 3.
Later that summer, Paul mentioned his appearance with Potter in a letter to his friend James Newton Matthews, a country doctor and poet from Mason, Illinois.
The recitation with Jennie O'Neill Potter was quite successful from an artistic standpoint. But I didn't get a cent out of it. Everyone seems so willing to help me by having me recite with them for advertisement or having me give them a book to show their friends. Evidently this world's goods are not for me.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to James Newton Matthews, July 17, 1893. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).