In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re looking at some notable women who have been involved with the Barnes Foundation.
Poet and playwright Angelina Grimké was born on February 27, 1880, in Boston. Grimké’s white mother, facing pressure and opposition from her family, left her black husband not long after Angelina was born. Angelina’s father Archibald Grimké, the son of a slave, was a lawyer, writer, and the executive director of the NAACP. Angelina wrote the play Rachel for the NAACP in 1916; it was the first African-American play that was meant to be fully staged, rather than simply being read aloud.
Grimke's poetry was included in anthologies by Alain Locke and Countée Cullen, and was published in the journal Opportunity, which also counted Dr. Barnes as a contributor. Recently, Grimké’s unpublished writings and letters have revealed that she was a lesbian. Unwilling or unable to be openly gay; many of her poems deal with her love for other women and themes of frustrated longing. Grimké spent most of her later life living alone in New York, and died in 1958.
Click to enlarge the letter
Although we have no evidence of any prior interactions, in May 1926, Grimké wrote to Dr. Barnes to thank him for his support and praise for her work; She asked in her letter if she might come visit him the next time she was in Philadelphia. Dr. Barnes immediately responded, “When you come to Philadelphia please let me know for I shall be mighty glad to meet you and to show you our collections.” He later invited her to attend a concert by the Bordentown Glee Club, and offered to pay her train fare, but unfortunately she could not attend because of her father’s illness. Whether Grimké ever visited the Foundation in person is not (yet) known.
Angelina Weld Grimké
Original photo at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
Not as the young, pleasurably,
Not as the aged, mistily,
But quietly, -
Drop by drop
The great tears splash upon my hands,
And save you saw their shine,
You would not know I wept.
Originally published in Opportunity, July 1924.