Feminize Your Canon

Feminize Your Canon: Alice Dunbar-Nelson

In April 1895, the up-and-coming poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whom Frederick Douglass had dubbed “the most promising young colored man in America,” saw a poem by a young writer, Alice Ruth Moore, accompanied by a photograph in which she appeared stylish and beautiful. He wrote to her immediately at her home on Palmyra Street in New Orleans, expressing his admiration, and they began an intense epistolary courtship that lasted two years. The Dunbars embodied the aspirational ideal of the educated, cultured African American, allowed access to the white halls of fame and power as long as they were willing to remain, flattened and fixed, in the roles of representatives of their race.

Feminize Your Canon: Fanny Fern

In 1854, one of America’s most popular newspaper columnists, the pseudonymous Fanny Fern, published “Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of The Present Time,” an autobiographical novel so thinly veiled as to be downright scandalous. In a preface, Fern announced that her book was “entirely at variance with all set rules for novel-writing,” eschewing an intricate plot, elaborate descriptions, and cliff-hanging suspense. Instead, the author likened herself to a casual visitor, dropping by unannounced with gossip to share—and, clearly, some scores to settle.

Feminize Your Canon: Mary Heaton Vorse

Our column Feminize Your Canon explores the lives of underrated and underread female authors. Originally begun by Emma Garman, it will now be written by Joanna Scutts. Mary Heaton Vorse, prolific novelist, journalist, and labor activist, spent most of her long life trying to escape her upper-middle-class origins. The heroine of her 1918 novel ’ calls the inescapability of a bourgeois upbringing life’s “blue serge lining”—a reference to the practical fabric that protected the inside of coats.