September 4 - Dear Applicant

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On September 4, 1894, Rebekah Baldwin, a teacher in Washington, D. C., wrote to Paul Laurence Dunbar in Dayton suggesting he apply for a position in the Washington public school system.  Paul was 22 years old and working a low-paying job as an elevator operator.

It has occurred to me that the position of teacher of English Literature in our High School is vacant.  Why not apply for it?  Some of your friends might be able to help you.  Of what school are you a graduate?  It is necessary that you be a graduate of some recognized school or college.  I should think you would make a very successful teacher of that branch.  Mr. Douglass might be able to help you.  I would give much to see you fill a position in our high school.

Rebekah Baldwin to Paul Laurence Dunbar, September 4, 1894.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Promptly following Baldwin's advice, Paul applied for the job, and asked for help from Frederick Douglass and Alexander Crummell, who were both influential in Washington.  Paul had met Baldwin, Douglass and Crummell a year earlier at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

While I disliked to bother you, I felt constrained to write and let you know that I had made application for the position of teacher of English Literature in the high school at Washington.  The work is in my line and I think that I could give satisfaction.  I should be very grateful if you would use any influence in your powers to assist me in getting the place.  If you can drop a favorable word for me into the care of Mr. Cornish or any other one of the trustees, I shall be very grateful to you.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Frederick Douglass, September 7, 1894.  Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress (Washington, D. C.).  MSS11879, Box 11, Reel 8.

I have taken the liberty to drop you a line about a matter that concerns me very deeply, and wherein, I believe, you can greatly help me.  Hearing that the position as teacher of English Literature in the High School of your city was vacant, I have applied to Hon. L. A. Cornish for appointment to the same.  My high school course has been supplemented by much special and constant study along literary lines and the appointment to this place would be a boon to me in more ways than one.  The purpose of this letter is to ask you to use whatever influence you may employ to help me in the attainment of my end.  I am afraid that I have presumed much in thus addressing you, but trusting to your charity to overlook the fault, and with deepest regard for yourself and wife.

P.S. I have just received a letter saying that Hon. B. K. Bruce has the appointing power instead of L. A. Cornish.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alexander Crummell, September 9, 1894.  Paul Laurence Dunbar collection, New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Microfilm edition, Roll 3).

Crummell responded soon afterward, but he was not optimistic about Paul's chances to get the job.

I must say, in all candor -- but, remember, privately -- that I can't give you very much encouragement in your endeavor.  There are local and wicked prejudices which I fear may bar your acceptance:  but this shall not prevent my best endeavors on your behalf.  I will see Mr. Cornish and I will write to Mr. Bruce, and urge your fitness;  in which I have great confidence.

Alexander Crummell to Paul Laurence Dunbar, September 12, 1894.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

A newspaper article published several months earlier referred to the wicked prejudices in the Washington school system that Crummell mentioned in his letter to Paul.

In the reorganization of the committees of the board of trustees of the District of Columbia, Hon. B. K. Bruce has been reappointed a member of the committee on high and normal schools.  This is a recognition of the services of a faithful and efficient school officer and a command to said officer to put an end to the bickerings, petty jealousies and quarrels which have, ever since the establishment of the high school, been rife in that institution.  It is a guarantee that the board of school directors will support Trustee Bruce in any legitimate measure which it may be necessary for him to take to suppress the aforesaid evils.  He must not hesitate to use the knife on those who are responsible for the disgraceful conditions at the high school.

"High School."  The Washington Bee (Washington, D. C.).  December 30, 1893.  Page 2.

Douglass also talked to the school administrator on Paul's behalf, but he did not get the teaching position.

I received your letter yesterday afternoon and in compliance with your request have been to see Mr. Douglass.  I have just come from him and he bids me say that there is no certainty about you getting a position here.  He has spoken with Mr. Bruce about you and that gentleman says he has filled the position.

Rebekah Baldwin to Paul Laurence Dunbar, September 15, 1894.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).