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Claiming Credit for Celebrity

After the Harper's success, Tobey again invited Dunbar to Toledo for a series of readings at the Asylum near the Fourth of July (as holidays are so difficult for the institutionalized). Without telling his guest, Tobey invited dozens of dignitaries, including the Governor of Ohio, Charles Foster, who said later, "Of all things I have ever heard, I never listened to anything so impressive as his rendition of the "Ships that Pass in the Night." Like the previous time Dunbar appeared in the Asylum, he was inspired to write an original poem on the occasion, and on that night he wrote his poem "The Crisis."

Toledo Mayor Samuel Jones's letter to DunbarToledo Mayor Samuel Jones's letter to Dunbar






As Dunbar's star rose, he remained close to Toledo and made friends with the low and the high of Toledo society. He made an especially firm impression with Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones and with his literary and political protégé, Brand Whitlock. Of course, these reformers tried to push Dunbar into their own streams. Jones urged Dunbar to take up the mantle of the reformer: "I yet hope to hear you sing for the disinherited and downtrodden millions black and white as Lowell and Whittier sang for the black slaves 50 years ago" (December 12, 1898). Whitlock, meanwhile, plied Dunbar with suggestions that he write more about the injustice of capital punishment (December 5, 1900)

Henry A. Tobey continued his knack for lending a helping hand when it was most needed. When, after a lengthy English tour in 1897, Dunbar found himself short of funds for the return passage home, Tobey wired the necessary amount. When Dunbar sought relief from tuberculosis in the mountain air of Colorado, Tobey wrote to a fellow physician in Denver (July 25, 1899) and arranged for Dunbar to receive the doctor’s hospitality and free medical attention (July 31, 1899).

An I.O.U. Written out by DunbarAn I.O.U. Written out by Dunbar








The relationship between Tobey and Dunbar was a complex one. Dunbar was not only close to Tobey but to Tobey’s entire family. When Dunbar visited Toledo, he often stayed at the Tobeys’ home and enjoyed playing with their children. On one occasion, as Dunbar revealed, this caused him some trouble:

"The girls…and I have been having a jolly good time and they had powdered me and black my eyebrows and under my eyes, - it was lots of fun at the time, but merciful heavens! I forgot to remove it before the company came, and here I sit writing with my head bowed low in order to conceal my shame, just waiting for a chance to make a break for my room."[5]

Tobey continually viewed himself as a father to Dunbar and, in some ways, the poet seemed to have reciprocated. When Dunbar suddenly married his sweetheart in 1898, he wrote Tobey: "I am married! I would have consulted you, but the matter was very quickly done…I hope you will not think I have been too rash." Tobey responded and gave his blessing to the union, though added that he would have preferred the young man have cleared up all his debts before wedding. But this was enough reassurance for Dunbar, who seemed relieved: "I was very glad to get your letter and find that you did not think ill of my step. I must confess I was very anxious as to how you would take it."[6] That year Dunbar dedicated his book Folks from Dixie to Henry Tobey.[7] But Dunbar also hints at a more conflicted and forced relationship as well, saying in one letter that he had to be "deceitful and smiling and affable" in the company of Toledo friends.[8]

He made many appearances in the city over the next decade, including a performance at the request of Mayor Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones at his Golden Rule Hall in 1898 (December 12, 1898). That same year, Dunbar attracted an audience of over one thousand to the City Hall in Bowling Green, Ohio. "No purely literary entertainment in Bowling Green was ever larger attended," observed one reporter, "and none received as unqualified endorsement of hearty approval."

As Dunbar's health deteriorated after 1902, his friends in Toledo stayed in touch and wrote him encouraging letters. (Apr. 30, 1902) Henry Tobey in particular expressed a deep sympathy with Dunbar's worsening condition, as his own health declined along with his career, the later apparently shaken by partisan political attacks and accusations of corruption. In early 1906, word arrived in Toledo that Dunbar's condition had become very grave. Brand Whitlock and John Mockett made plans to travel to Dayton and visit the dying poet. On Feb. 6, 1906, Henry Tobey wrote a long, dark, rambling letter explaining the shambles his own life was in, proclaiming at one point, " Poor Boy, you are resting easy. Wish you had to fight like I do. You would forget you ever had what someone called Tuberculosis….you poor black discouraged dying wretch, I envy you." Dunbar never read these depressing sentiments, as he died the day they were mailed.


[1] Dunbar Papers, Dunbar to James Newton Matthews, May 2, 1893 (Ohio Historical Society).
[2] The Shearer Musical and Lecture Bureau of Cincinnati had contracted with Dunbar to tour with a musical company and give recitations for $25.00 a week and apparently reneged on the offer. Thatcher advised Dunbar on his rights and wrote to Shearer directly on his behalf. (Dunbar Papers, Dunbar to James Newton Matthews, Apr. 30, 1894 (Ohio Historical Society).
[3] Dunbar Papers, Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, Aug. 18, 1895 (Ohio Historical Society).
[4] Dunbar Papers, Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, Apr. 19, 1896 (Ohio Historical Society).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Dunbar Papers, Dunbar to Henry A. Tobey, undated, 1898 and Apr. 6, 1898 (Ohio Historical Society).
[7] Paul Laurence Dunbar, Folks from Dixie (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898).
[8] Dunbar Papers, Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, Apr. 19, 1896 (Ohio Historical Society).

Finding aid to the "Herbert Woodward Martin Papers (Prof. Martin is a leading scholar of Dunbar) at the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, University of Toledo Libraries", MSS-015, 095

Articles Written About Paul Dunbar From Local Newspapers

Poem by J.N. Mockett entitled, "Paul Lawrence Dunbar," Toledo News-Bee, Dec. 13, 188?/1898?.
"Dunbar Heard Again: Recital of Clever Lyrics: The Colored Bard Charms a Toledo Audience..." Source unidentified, n. d.
"Successful was the Paul Laurence Dunbar Recital: A Large Attendance and Hearty Approval...", The Daily (Bowling Green), n. d.
"Paul Dunbar Heard: Gives a Private Recital: The Colored Poet Entertains Dr. and Mrs. Tobey..." Source unidentified, n. d.
"Paul Dunbar's Reading: Excellent Entertainment Given at State Hospital", Toledo Blade,.n. d.
"(P.L. Dunbar) At the Auditorium last evening...", Toledo Blade, Dec. 13, 1898.
"Paul Dunbar's Reading." Toledo Evening News, Dec. 13, 1898.
"The West End Club: An Interesting Meeting Held Last Night", Toledo Blade, n. d.
(P.L. Dunbar at the West End Club), Toledo Commercial, n. d.

List of Toledo Letters

Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Apr. 21, 1893 [PDF]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Apr. 25, 1893 [PDF]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Dec. 1, 1894 [PDF]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Dec. 9, 1894 [PDF]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Dec. 12, 1894 [JPEG/image]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Mar. 29, 1895 [PDF]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, July 6, 1895 [PDF]
PLD to H.A. Tobey, July 13, 1895 [PDF/transcription only]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, July 7, 1895 [JPEG/image]
Hadley and Hadley Co. to PLD, Dec. 9, 1895 [JPEG/image]
Hadley and Hadley Co. to PLD, Dec. 22, 1895 [JPEG/image]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, Dec. 29, 1895 [PDF]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, Apr. 22, 1896 [PDF]
Isaac Smead to PLD, Apr. 22, 1896 [JPEG/image]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, n.d.; partial letter #210 [no facsimile available]
A.A. Jennings to PLD, Apr. 20, 1896 [JPEG/image]
Chas. A. Thatcher to PLD, Jan. 17, 1897 [PDF]
D.K.B. to NY Tribune, Nov. 25, 1897 [PDF]
S.M. Jones to PLD, Dec. 12, 1898 [PDF]
H.A. Tobey to Dr. J.T. Eskridge, July 25, 1899 [JPEG/image]
J.T. Eskridge to H.A. Tobey, July 31, 1899 [JPEG/image]
Brand Whitlock to PLD, Dec. 5, 1900 [PDF]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, Apr. 30, 1902 [PDF]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, June 10, 1902 [JPEG/image]
Brand Whitlock to PLD, July 20, 1903 [PDF]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, n.d.; partial letter #775 [JPEG/image]
H.A. Tobey to PLD, Feb. 5, 1906 [PDF]

All Dunbar correspondence reproduced with the permission of the Ohio Historical Society.


This exhibit was made possible with the help of Cynthia Ghering of the Ohio Historical Society; the Wright State University Library and Special Collections and Archives; the Toledo Lucas County Public Library Local History Room; the Canaday Center for Special Collections at the Carlson Library, University of Toledo. All documents used with the permission of the Ohio Historical Society, the Wright State University Libraries, or the Canaday Center of the Carlson Library.