Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Throughout history, black history has largely been ignored and unfortunately even during the First World War there was still much prejudice against black people. During the First World War, Alice Dunbar-Nelson (19th July 1875 – 18th September 1935) was a field representative for the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defence.

Alice was among the first generation that was born free of slavery after the Civil War in the southern states of America and was one of the first African-American women to be college educated. Throughout her life she was dedicated to political activism for civil and women’s rights across the country, a school teacher and a writer. During the last year of the First World War in 1918, Alice wrote a one person play called Mine Eyes Have Seen and also wrote poetry throughout.

When the war broke out, Alice set her sights into becoming an overseas war correspondent, however this did not happen and instead dedicated herself to mobilizing black women’s support for the United States Defence. The Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defence was created to help incorporate all women on the Homefront to help towards the war effort. There was also a Council of National Defence aimed at men. However, when these committees were established there was an overwhelming white response to membership, but for all of the home front to fully united against the enemy there needed to be more attention given to the black community. Looking back on history, this seemed like it would have been a massive task in a society where segregation among other things were ongoing towards the black community on a daily basis. When Alice did arrive down South, women within the black community were already hard at work supporting the war effort and in Selma, Alabama, the women were selling war bonds and stamps to raise funds. Women down South felt that this was the beginning for social reform in their communities if the government saw how much they contributed to society. Not just civil rights but also for a health reform as there was a real problem of infantile deaths at that time. As the war for the United States wasn’t as long as it was for Britain, social reform was just out of reach as the war ended too soon for anything to be really put in place.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson helped to manage and organize women within the Southern States of America to become more involved with the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defence as an organisation to unite every woman on the Home Front. However, black women were already helping in their own way, whether it was selling bonds for the war effort or dreaming of civil and social reform.

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