Jessie Redmon Fauset

Bringing Out the Black Voice

Langston Hughes, 1945
Langston Hughes, 1945: one of the writers Jessie Redmon Fauset promoted. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Jessie Redmon Fauset Facts

Known for: role in Harlem Renaissance; literary editor of the Crisis; called by Langston Hughes a "mid-wife" of African American literature; first African American woman in the United States elected to Phi Beta Kappa
Occupation:  writer, editor, educator
Dates: April 27, 1882 - April 30, 1961
Also known as: Jessie Fauset

Jessie Redmon Fauset Biography:

Jessie Redmon Fauset was born the seventh child of Annie Seamon Fauset and Redmon Fauset, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church.

Jessie Fauset graduated from the High School for Girls in Philadelphia, the only African American student there. She applied to Bryn Mawr, but that school instead of admitting her helped her to enroll at Cornell University, where she may have been the first black woman student. She graduated from Cornell in 1905, with a Phi Beta Kappa honor.

Early Career

She taught Latin and French for one year at Douglass High School in Baltimore, and then taught, until 1919, in Washington, DC, at what became, after 1916, Dunbar High School. While teaching, she earned her M.A. in French from the University of Pennsylvania.  She also began to contribute writings to Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP. She later received a degree from the Sorbonne.

Literary Editor of the Crisis 

Fauset served as literary editor of the Crisis from 1919 to 1926. For this job, she moved to New York City. She worked with W.E.B. DuBois, both at the magazine and in his work with the Pan African Movement.

She also traveled and lectured extensively, including overseas, during her tenure with the Crisis.  Her apartment in Harlem, where she lived with her sister, became a gathering place for the circle of intellectuals and artists associated with Crisis.

Jessie Fauset wrote many of the articles, stories, and poems in the Crisis herself, and also promoted such writers as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer.

Her role in discovering, promoting, and giving a platform to African American writers helped to create an authentic "black voice" in American literature.

From 1920 to 1921, Fauset published The Brownies' Book, a periodical for African American children.Her 1925 essay, “The Gift of Laughter,” is a classic literary piece, analyzing how American drama used black characters in roles as comics.

Writing Novels

She and other women writers were inspired to publish novels about experiences like their own when a white male novelist, T.S. Stribling, published Birthright in 1922, a fictional account of an educated mixed-race woman.

Jessie Faucet published four novels, the most of any writer during the Harlem Renaissance: There Is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy: American Style (1933).  Each of these focuses on black professionals and their families, facing American racism and living their rather non-stereotypical lives.

After the Crisis

When she left the Crisis in 1926, Jessie Fauset attempted to find another position in publishing, but found that racial prejudice was too great a barrier. She taught French in New York City, at DeWitt Clinton High School from 1927 to 1944, continuing to write and publish her novels.

In 1929, Jessie Fauset married an insurance broker and World War I veteran, Herbert Harris. They lived with Fauset's sister in Harlem until 1936, and moved to New Jersey in the 1940s. In 1949, she briefly served as a visiting professor at Hampton Institute, and taught for a short time at Tuskegee Institute. After Harris died in 1958, Jessie Fauset moved to her half-brother's home in Philadelphia where she died in 1961.

Literary Legacy

Jessie Redmon Fauset's writings were revived and republished in the 1960s and 1970s, though some preferred writings about African Americans in poverty rather than Fauset’s depictions of an elite.  By the 1980s and 1990s, feminists had refocused attention on Fauset’s writings.

A 1945 painting of Jessie Redmon Fauset, painted by Laura Wheeler Waring, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Annie Seamon Fauset

Father: Redmon Fauset

  • Siblings: six older siblings

Education:

  • High School for Girls in Philadelphia
  • Cornell University
  • University of Pennsylvania (French)
  • Sorbonne in Paris

Marriage, Children:

  • Husband: Herbert Harris (married 1929; insurance broker)