Women of the Harlem Renaissance

Biographies of Harlem Renaissance Women

Zora Neale Hurston, photo portrait by Carl Van Vechten
Zora Neale Hurston, photo portrait by Carl Van Vechten. Fotosearch/Getty Images

Below are women who played key roles in the Harlem Renaissance -- some are well-known, and some have been neglected or forgotten. Follow links to biographies and other content where available. Related: History of Women of the Harlem Renaissance: Dreaming in Color and Timeline: African American History and Women, 1920s

  • Regina M. Anderson (1901 - 1993): playwright and librarian, of mixed African, Native American, Jewish and European descent. She helped organize a 1924 dinner that brought together the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Josephine Baker (1906 - 1975): a singer, dancer and entertainer, she was most successful in France and other parts of Europe.
  • Gwendolyn Bennett (1902 - 1981): an artist, poet and writer, she was an assistant to the editor of Opportunity and a co-founder of the journal Fire!!.
  • Marita Bonner (1899 - 1971): a writer, playwright and essayist, she is best known for her play The Purple Flower.
  • Hallie Quinn Brown (1845 - 1949): writer, educator, clubwoman and activist, she was an elder influence on the Harlem Renaissance writers.
  • Anita Scott Coleman (1890 - 1960):although she lived in the southwestern United States, her short stories, poems and essays often appeared during the Harlem Renaissance in national magazines.
  • Mae V. Cowdery (1909 - 1953): a poet, she published in a Philadelphia journal and one of her poems took first place in a poetry contest in The Crisis.
  • Clarissa Scott Delaney (1901 - 1927): a poet, educator and social worker, she published several poems and was part of Georgia Douglas Johnson's literary club. She worked with the National Urban League in New York before succumbing to a long battle with streptococcus.
  • Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882 - 1961): poet, essayist, novelist, educator and editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis. She was called "the midwife" of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Angelina Weld Grimké (1880 - 1958): poet, playwright, journalist and educator. Her father was a nephew of abolitionists and feminists Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Moore Grimké. She was published in The Crisis and Opportunity and in anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Ariel Williams Holloway (1905 - 1973): poet and teacher of music, she published poems during the Harlem Renaissance including in Opportunity.
  • Virginia Houston: a poet and social worker (dates unknown) her often-erotic poems were published during the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960): anthropologist, folklorist and writer, she applied her social science interests to her novels about black life.
  • Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880 - 1966): poet and playwright, she was of African, Native American and European descent. She often wrote of black life and against lynching. Her literary salon in Washington, DC, Saturday Nighters, was a center of Harlem Renaissance figures.
  • Helene Johnson (1906 - 1995): a poet, she published in Opportunity.  She stopped publishing her poetry in 1937, but continued writing a poem every day until her death.
  • Lois Mailou Jones (1905 - 1998): artist.  She taught at Howard University from 1929 until 1977, studying in France on a fellowship in 1937 where she was connected to the Négritude movement.
  • Nella Larsen (1891 - 1964): a nurse and librarian, raised by her Danish mother and stepfather, she also wrote two novels and some short stories, traveling to Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
  • Florence Mills (1896 - 1927): singer, comedian, dancer, known as "queen of happiness," she was part of the wider circles that included many Harlem Renaissance figures.
  • Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875 - 1935): poet, activist, journalist, educator. She was married to Paul Laurence Dunbar in her first marriage.
  • Effie Lee Newsome (1885 - 1979): writer and poet, she wrote for children including in a column in The Crisis, editing columns of children in Opportunity.
  • Esther Popel (1896 - 1958): poet, activist, editor, educator.  She wrote for The Crisis and Opportunity. She was part of Georgia Douglas Johnson's literary circle in Washington, DC.
  • Augusta Savage (1892 - 1962): sculptor, she was part of the Harlem Renaissance. During the Depression she taught and fulfilled commissions, including Lift Every Voice and Sing  (or "The Harp") for the 1939 New York World's Fair.
  • Bessie Smith (1894 - 1937): blues singer, prominent during the period of the Harlem Renaissance and later.
  • Anne Spencer (1882 - 1975): poet. though she lived in Virginia, she was part of the circle of writers and thinkers known as the Harlem Renaissance. She was the first African American to have a poem included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry.  Her home in Lynchburg was later a meeting place for African American artists and intellectuals, from Marian Anderson to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • A'Lelia Walker (1885 - 1931): patron of the arts and heir to the business of her mother, Madam C. J. Walker, she moved in circles with Harlem's artists and intellectuals and often supported their work.
  • Ethel Waters (1896 - 1977): actress and singer, she was the second African American nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Dorothy West (1907 - 1998): writer. Cousin of Helene Johnson, she moved in the circles of the Harlem Renaissance after she moved to New York City. She published the journal Challenge and then, later, New Challenge.