Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Born in Philadelphia, Jessie Redmon Fauset contributed greatly to the Harlem Renaissance in Washington, DC, as a writer and editor.
One the lesser-known figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Jessie Redmon Fauset was born in 1882. Early in life her family moved from New Jersey to Philadelphia. Though she wished to attend Bryn Mawr, she received scholarship money to attend Cornell University. Upon failing to gain employment as a teacher in the Philadelphia area, she taught in Washington until W.E.B. DuBois called her to work for the NAACP’s The CrisisMagazine. While there she published essays, poems, and stories of her own, as well as edited works of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Her own works did not receive much attention at the time, but they are currently being revived academically, particularly her novel Plum Bun (1928). She died in Philadelphia in 1961.
Jessie Redmon Fauset was born April 27, 1882, in Camden, New Jersey. Her parents were Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie Seamon Fauset. Redmon Fauset married Bella Huff after the death of Annie Fauset and the couple moved their family to Philadelphia. In 1929, Jessie Fauset married Herbert Harris, an insurance broker, at the age of 47. The couple resided with Fauset’s sister, Helen Lanning, in Harlem, New York until Lanning’s death in 1936. Fauset and Harris were separated from 1931 to 1932. In the 1940s, they moved to New Jersey, where they lived until Harris died in 1958. The couple had no children.
Fauset graduated with honors from Philadelphia’s High School for Girls in 1900 as the only African American student. She applied to Bryn Mawr College and rather than accepting her as a student, the college helped Fauset obtain financial aid to attend Cornell University. Fauset studied classical languages at Cornell and was elected to the honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. After she graduated from Cornell in 1905, Fauset searched for a teaching job in Philadelphia, but was denied a position because of her race and sex. She eventually obtained a job at the Douglass High School in Baltimore, where she taught for one year. Fauset then moved to Washington, DC, to teach French at the M Street High School, where she remained for 14 years. In 1919, sociologist and political activist W.E.B. DuBois asked Fauset to move to New York City and accept a position as the literary editor of The Crisis Magazine. Fauset received a Masters of Arts Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1929 and a certificate from the Sorbonne in Paris, France.
Fauset is most noted for her work on The Crisis Magazine, the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As editor, Fauset published the works of Harlem Renaissance writers such as Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and George Schuyler. In addition to editing the magazine, Fauset also contributed some of her own essays, poetry, and short stories to the magazine. In 1920 and 1921, she spent time as the editor of the NAACP monthly children’s magazine, The Brownie’s Book. Much of the credit for her work was given to the magazine’s founder, W.E.B. DuBois. Fauset also published four novels during her career as a writer. The first novel, There is Confusion, was published in 1924 and was created as a response to what Fauset believed to be an inaccurate portrayal of black life in fiction. The second novel, Plum Bun, is the story of a woman trying to make people believe she is white, and the novel is Fauset’s most acclaimed piece of work. Her final two novels, The Chinaberry Tree and Comedy, American Style, followed in 1931 and 1933, respectively.
Jessie Fauset only received a small amount of recognition and honor during her life and career as a writer. Some believe her modesty and selflessness kept her from becoming a greater figure in literature. Although she did not receive awards for her work, she is now remembered for her success in writing, editing, translating, and teaching. Her work has also been included in various anthologies. On April 30, 1961, Jessie Redmon Fauset in died of heart disease in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
There Is Confusion. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1924.
Plum Bun. London: Mathews & Marrot, 1928.
The Chinaberry Tree. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1931.
Comedy, American Style. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1933.
“Rondeau.” The Crisis Magazine. April 1912: 252.
“La Vie C’est La Vie.” The Crisis Magazine. July 1922: 124.
“‘Courage!’ He Said.” The Crisis Magazine. November 1929: 378.
“Emmy.” The Crisis Magazine. December 1912: 79-87; January 1913: 134-142.
“My House and a Glimpse of My Life Therein.” The Crisis Magazine. July 1914: 143-145.
“Double Trouble.” The Crisis Magazine. August 1923: 155-159; September 1923: 205-209.
“Impressions of the Second Pan-African Congress.” The Crisis Magazine. November 1921: 12-18.
“What Europe Thought of the Pan-African Congress.” The Crisis Magazine. December 1921: 60-69.
Blain, Virginia and Patricia Clements, eds. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: women writers from the Middle Ages to the present. London: B. T. Batsford, 1990.