The Rosenbach Launches a New Digital Exhibition — “I Am an American!” The Authorship and Activism of Alice Dunbar-Nelson [press release]

For immediate release


PHILADELPHIA, October 20, 2020—The Rosenbach is proud to announce the launch of “I Am an American!” The Authorship and Activism of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, a new digital exhibition exploring an important, yet understudied, author and activist whose legacy speaks to modern times in extraordinary ways. The digital exhibition is on view at 

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935), who lived in both Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, dedicated her life to teaching, writing, and civic activism. Her work was complex, encompassing the study of literature, behavioral health, and African American history and culture, as well as public school and reformatory education. A survivor of intimate partner violence, Dunbar-Nelson escaped an abusive marriage to the famous poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, becoming an important literary and cultural figure in her own right. She played a vital role in the Black women’s club movement, organized for women’s suffrage, and worked to expand social justice, all while establishing herself as an accomplished writer and journalist who published a newspaper and wrote short stories, novels, poetry, syndicated newspaper columns, and so much more. 

This exhibition is the first to explore the long-overlooked career of one of the most influential contributors to the politics and culture of the region. Showcasing dozens of remarkable artifacts from Dunbar-Nelson’s life, including rare books, literary manuscripts, photographs, personal letters, and scrapbooks, it uncovers links between literature, civic education, and activism, and challenge visitors to think about how they can continue Dunbar-Nelson’s work today. 

“I Am an American!” is a partnership of The Rosenbach, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press. It is curated by Jesse Erickson and Monet Timmons of the University of Delaware. Erickson is Coordinator of Special Collections and Digital Humanities, Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and Associate Director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center at the University of Delaware. His research specializations are in ethnobibliography, African American print culture, and the transnational publishing history of Ouida. Timmons received her B.A. in English and African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Her research focuses on Black women in the archive from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Through public humanities work, her research uncovers the fragments of these archives to reveal the complexities of these women’s lives to make a larger intervention about Black women’s lived experiences across space and time. Monet is currently a third-year English PhD student and an African American Public Humanities (AAPHI) Fellow at the University of Delaware.  

A component of the exhibition is the “Voices of Change” podcast that explores themes, topics, and issues raised in “I Am an American!”. Each episode highlights voices involved in shaping the exhibition and considers how Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s life, times, and work speak to pressing issues facing the United States today. There are eight episodes of the podcast and include conversations about Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s experience with police brutality and status as a queer icon with the exhibition’s co-curators; a reflection on creating inclusive museum spaces with Vashti DuBois, Founder of The Colored Girls Museum; a conversation with Irene Lindsay Brantley of Women In Transition and Katie Young Wildes of Women Against Abuse on surviving and thriving after intimate partner violence; and much more. The podcast can be found here:   

Alongside the exhibition, The Rosenbach will present a series of virtual programs and courses with themes relating to “I Am an American!”. Highlights include a virtual Behind the Bookcase tour focused on the Harlem Renaissance on November 20 and a four-part virtual course led by co-curator Jesse Erickson called Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Reading from Inside the Archive beginning on January 14. More programs will be announced in the coming weeks and you can see the full calendar here: 




About The Rosenbach 

The Rosenbach creates unique experiences for broad audiences through programs inspired by its world-class holdings of literature and history. The Rosenbach is located in Center City Philadelphia and is open to the public with growing content available at all times on The Rosenbach is affiliated with the Free Library of Philadelphia.