Anne Spencer

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The Atypical Woman in a Typical World

Do many people know who Anne Spencer is? Probably not. Anne Spencer was a Harlem Renaissance poet who actually lived in Lynchburg, Virginia. She immensely enjoyed working in her garden and spending time in Edankraal, a small cottage in her garden where she wrote most of her poetry. Though Anne was a hard worker, she definitely was not a typical woman of the early 20th century. Anne and her husband, Edward, did many things that were not typical during the early 20th century, but these "atypical" characteristics made the couple very unique.

Anne was the "unannounced" valedictorian of her class at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (Potter 129). This was unusual because at the time African American women were able to attend school, but most did not go to college, much less become the valedictorian of the graduating class. Though some say that Anne was not the valedictorian of her class, but rather a shy girl was the valedictorian, and Anne definitely was not shy ("Anne Bethel"). Anne’s intelligence definitely shows throughout her work.

Spencer did not work simply to earn money; she worked because she enjoyed what she was doing. According to A History of Women in the West, the women of the early 20th century were still working at home, keeping the children, doing house chores, and some even worked on the farm. When World War I broke out because of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, most women went to work in factories (24). Anne did not work in a factory; but she did work at Jones Memorial Library’s Dunbar Branch for $75 a month. Anne was not the typical librarian hired for this job. Though the library only served African American patrons, the position as a librarian normally went to a white person. She convinced the employer that she was qualified by showing him/her that she was a published poet. She also taught at her alma mater, the Virginia Theological Seminary and College for free, just because she loved teaching (Clark). On the other hand, Edward was Lynchburg, Virginia’s first parcel postman. Not only was this an enormous achievement for the city of Lynchburg, but also because Edward was an African American. Edward also helped out with the family grocery store which was close to their home on 1313 Pierce Street. The pay he received helped the family’s financial situation tremendously (Salmon 18).

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