Women of the Harlem Renaissance

Zora Neale Hurston, photo portrait by Carl Van Vechten
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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.

Women of the Harlem Renaissance

  • Regina M. Anderson (1901 to 1993): playwright and librarian, of African, Indigenous, Jewish and European descent. She helped organize a 1924 dinner that brought together the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Josephine Baker (1906 to 1975): a singer, dancer, and entertainer, she was most successful in France and other parts of Europe.
  • Gwendolyn Bennett (1902 to 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 to 1971): a writer, playwright, and essayist, she is best known for her play The Purple Flower.
  • Hallie Quinn Brown (1845 to 1949): writer, educator, club woman, and activist, she was an elder influence on the Harlem Renaissance writers.
  • Anita Scott Coleman (1890 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 1960): anthropologist, folklorist and writer, she applied her social science interests to her novels about black life.
  • Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880 to 1966): poet and playwright, she was of African, Indigenous 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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 1935): poet, activist, journalist, educator. She was married to Paul Laurence Dunbar in her first marriage.
  • Effie Lee Newsome (1885 to 1979): writer and poet, she wrote for children including in a column in The Crisis, editing columns of children in Opportunity.
  • Esther Popel (1896 to 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 to 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 to 1937): blues singer, prominent during the period of the Harlem Renaissance and later.
  • Anne Spencer (1882 to 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 to 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 to 1977): actress and singer, she was the second African American nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Dorothy West (1907 to 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.