On July 14, 1898, a New York City newspaper published a personal item about Alice Moore Dunbar, the wife of Paul Laurence Dunbar. This brief report betrayed serious domestic problems for the Dunbars, who were still newlyweds.
Mrs. Paul Laurence Dunbar was the guest of Mrs. Victoria Earle Matthews early in the week.
"Personal." The New York Age (New York, New York). July 14, 1898.
Alice's trip to New York was the beginning of a lengthy separation for the Dunbars. After a secret marriage in March, they continued to live in distant cities. In April, Alice moved to Washington, D. C., to live with her husband and his mother Matilda. There was conflict between the two women, as Alice described years later in a letter to Paul's first biographer.
There was also a miserable friction between his mother and myself. She was with us always, as was right, I suppose, but she resented me generally, because he had always been hers solely.
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 left Washington, stopping first in New York to visit her close friend Victoria Earle Matthews, but she didn't tell her why.
I have not told her there is any trouble between us, and don't wish her to think so. I am saying that the weather is too hot for me, and that the doctor has ordered me North for the summer. I wish you would say likewise. I have put on a brave front here, and I don't think anything is suspected. I hope you and mother will have a taste of your old happy life while I am gone. When you wish me back, dear, tell me, and I will come. You know that I love you. I am not angry, only hurt, hurt terribly. It is of no use for me to say I am sorry that I have come into your life and wrecked it so -- I have done it, and I alone am to blame. If I could atone I would. I hope mother is not angry at me. I kissed her goodbye. I am sorry you both misunderstand my motives and feelings so.
Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, July 9, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
Alice soon left New York and went to her mother's home in Massachusetts. The Dunbars had a brief reunion in Newport, Rhode Island, where Paul gave a literary recital, but afterward they remained apart. During their separation, they kept in frequent contact by mail.
I almost feel as if I must not write to you, because I can tell you nothing, except how lonesome I am without you and how much I want you here. Give my best love to mother and all the rest of the folks. With all the love in the world to you, I am your lonesome, sorrowful old Hubbins.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 1, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
Do you really want me back? I am lonely and want you too, dearest, but what's the use? We would not be together twelve hours before I would irritate you and make you despise me, and cause you to magnify my human weaknesses into unpardonable sins.
Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, September 1, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
To entice Alice to return, Paul promised to keep Matilda away from Washington for a while. Matilda went to Dayton, and Paul saw her there while traveling for a speaking engagement.
I arrived here yesterday and found all well. Mother was very glad to see me, but is anxious to go home with me. I will not let her until you have been here. I dread going home and not finding you there. Darling, do you really want to come home? If you do, don't let the fear of our little frictions stand between us. I love you and am lost without you. Come if you will when I get back 'cause I want you, my honey, yes I do. I'll be home Friday Sept 9th. Whenever after that you feel like coming, come!
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 5, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
I enclose herewith a check for $20.00 which will, I hope, pay your fare home. I have grown suddenly very impatient. I don't want to press you or to ask you to do what you do not wish to do, but oh I want you so much -- to quarrel with perhaps. Write me as soon as you decide what you are going to do, for I shall be in suspense until I hear from you.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 10, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
I only feel sorrowful, because it seems to me so utterly hopeless, because you won't try to control your brooding tendencies. Suppose I decided to remain away altogether, for fear of constant bickerings and quarrels? Would either of us be happier? Now dearest. I shall leave here next week, but before I come I want you to promise me something. Promise me that you'll let past be past, for as long as you brood and harp upon the things that were, just so long will there be inharmony and unhappiness. Promise me that you will try to control your tongue and your temper. Promise me that you will let me take my rightful place in the house and maintain it. I am your wife, remember that, and the housewife and head. There can be no two heads to the house.
Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, September 13, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
The Dunbars were finally reunited on September 25 and had a brief period together without Matilda. A week later, Paul told his mother she could come back to Washington.
I send you herewith your picture of Lewis Douglass and a copy of my new book - also I enclose to you my check for 20.00. Come whenever you are ready, but be sure to telegraph or write me when you will arrive. Alice and I are both first rate except for slight colds.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, October 2, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).