August 24 - The Made to Order Story

Story topics

On August 24, 1898, Gertrude Richards of Brookline, Massachusetts, wrote to Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C.  Also known as Mrs. Waldo Richards, she was an elocutionist who specialized in dialect poems and stories.  Richards told Paul that she hoped to include some of his work in her future performances, and asked him for unpublished material or a monologue written especially for her.

I can imagine the many who have told you their delight in your poems, yet I hope that you will let me add my own sincere pleasure in not only reading them myself, but in presenting them to my audiences in my recitals.  This coming season, I intend to include in my repertoire more of your poems and two of your stories which especially appeal to me:  "The Colonel's Awakening" and "Jimsella."  May I ask you would consider the thought of allowing me the use of any poems or stories which would lend themselves well to reciting and have not been published?  In my repertoire, I have several monologues and selections which have been written especially for me, and I have paid for them (or occasionally a royalty for their use).  I have wondered whether you might have the inclination to write something for me.  I should like it not over fifteen or twenty minutes.

Gertrude Moore Richards to Paul Laurence Dunbar, August 24, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

The titles that Richards mentioned were from Paul's first collection of short stories, Folks from Dixie.  Richards was an extremely popular dramatic reader, so her proposal represented a significant opportunity for Paul.

Mrs. Waldo Richards has returned from London, where, as in Paris, she had a remarkably successful season.  The secret of her success in London and Paris has lain essentially in her inimitable rendering of American dialects, embracing such widely differing types as the "down East" Yankee, the plantation negro, and the Western Hoosier.  She is not a mere reciter of other people's thoughts;  she is an exponent of living character -- character which she has studied from the life, and with which she is peculiarly in touch.

"Won Golden Praises Everywhere."  The Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois).  August 14, 1892.  Page  10.

Mrs. Cleveland invited a company of friends this afternoon to the White House to hear Mrs. Waldo Richards of Boston recite.  The talented reader stood on a small platform, with a lighted lamp on the table near her, and was heard to great advantage in recitations from Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley, Thomas Nelson Page and Hopkinson Smith.

"Recitation in the White House."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  January 12, 1896.  Page 2.

Paul mentioned Richards' offer to his wife Alice, who was visiting her family near Boston.

Mrs. Waldo Richards, the Boston reader, has written me a charming letter and wants me to write a twenty minute monologue for her.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 1, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

I am enclosing a nice letter from Mrs. Waldo Richards.  I think you will appreciate it and wish you could see her and talk over the "monologue" with her.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 2, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Although Alice was close enough to visit Richards, Paul later discouraged her from doing so.

I don't believe, after all, that you could do any good by calling on Mrs. Richards.  She couldn't tell me just what she wanted and it would look like I was too anxious.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 12, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Newspaper reports afterward indicate Richards recited material that Paul wrote especially for her.

At the residence of Mrs. Henry F. Dimmock, on Friday afternoon, Feb. 10, at 3 o'clock, Mrs. Waldo Richards will give recitals in dialect, including French-Canadian poems from "The Habitant," by William Henry Drummond;  stories of child life, by James Whitcomb Riley and Eugene Field;  an unpublished monologue of negro character, written for Mrs. Richards by Paul Laurence Dunbar, and a few Irish sketches.  Cards of admission, at $2, may be obtained from Mrs. Charles T. Barney.

"Society Notes."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  February 5, 1899.  Page 16.

The art of reproducing dialect upon the public platform is one that has evidently been studied with great care by Mrs. Waldo Richards, who gave a recital at Lower Unity Hall yesterday afternoon before a large audience.  She introduced new dialects in folklore poems of the Dorsetshire Englishman, and of the French Canadian, and gave, besides, negro dialect stories and an Irish sketch.  In the negro monologue by Paul Laurence Dunbar, written expressly for her, she gave a touch of the softer shade of the life of the southern "mammy" than is usually presented, and in "The Emancipation Baby" and other negro poems she was deliciously humorous.

"Dialect Recital."  The Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut).  February 28, 1899.  Page 3.

Mrs. Waldo Richards of Boston, who has won deserved reputation through her recitation in dialect, gave an entertainment yesterday afternoon in the East room of the Astoria Hotel.  Mrs. Richards was heard in two of the Canadian habitant poems of William Henry Drummond, "The Old Mammy's Story," by the colored poet, Paul L. Dunbar, and selections by Sarah Orne Jewett, and from Holley's "Josiah Allen's Wife."

"What is Doing in Society."  The New York Times (New York, New York).  February 16, 1900.  Page 7.