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The Atypical Woman in a Typical World

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Essay title: The Atypical Woman in a Typical World

The Atypical Woman in a Typical World

Do many people know who Anne Spencer is? Probably not. Anne Spencer was a Harlem Renaissance poet who actually lived in Lynchburg, Virginia. She immensely enjoyed working in her garden and spending time in Edankraal, a small cottage in her garden where she wrote most of her poetry. Though Anne was a hard worker, she definitely was not a typical woman of the early 20th century. Anne and her husband, Edward, did many things that were not typical during the early 20th century, but these "atypical" characteristics made the couple very unique.

Anne was the "unannounced" valedictorian of her class at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (Potter 129). This was unusual because at the time African American women were able to attend school, but most did not go to college, much less become the valedictorian of the graduating class. Though some say that Anne was not the valedictorian of her class, but rather a shy girl was the valedictorian, and Anne definitely was not shy ("Anne Bethel"). Anne’s intelligence definitely shows throughout her work.

Spencer did not work simply to earn money; she worked because she enjoyed what she was doing. According to A History of Women in the West, the women of the early 20th century were still working at home, keeping the children, doing house chores, and some even worked on the farm. When World War I broke out because of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, most women went to work in factories (24). Anne did not work in a factory; but she did work at Jones Memorial Library’s Dunbar Branch for $75 a month. Anne was not the typical librarian hired for this job. Though the library only served African American patrons, the position as a librarian normally went to a white person. She convinced the employer that she was qualified by showing him/her that she was a published poet. She also taught at her alma mater, the Virginia Theological Seminary and College for free, just because she loved teaching (Clark). On the other hand, Edward was Lynchburg, Virginia’s first parcel postman. Not only was this an enormous achievement for the city of Lynchburg, but also because Edward was an African American. Edward also helped out with the family grocery store which was close to their home on 1313 Pierce Street. The pay he received helped the family’s financial situation tremendously (Salmon 18).

Anne Spencer was not typical because she stayed in Lynchburg, Virginia. Most Harlem Renaissance poets began to move up north towards New York because of social and intellectual freedom. The Harlem Renaissance happened when African Americans began to express their thoughts in art, poetry, dance, and literature (Danzer 632). Anne spent most of her time in the garden behind her house and enjoyed every minute of it. It is odd that she did not follow the movement of African Americans up north, but rather enjoyed herself in Lynchburg, and still produced quality work.

Most women of the early 20th century either had a garden and spent time working in it, or did not have a garden at all. Anne loved her garden with every ounce that she had. The garden contained many different types of plants such as: peonies, roses, lilacs, sweetpeas, trumpet vines, lilies, and many more different plants. Anne was not the typical lady who called a flower by the name that it is typically known by. Anne used her teaching abilities inside the garden, "Anne always called her flowers by their botanical names" (Salmon 13). Anne even played with cross-pollination, and years later, a black pansy popped up from where she had always tried to make the black pansy develop (Salmon 14).

Edward also contributed to the garden, which is unusual. Most men in the early 20th century were busy working to support the family or fighting in the war (Danzer 575). Edward would take Anne to venture out and find unusual, bright colored plants; those that not many other gardeners had. Edward was a wonderful recycler. He brought in a wrought iron fence from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, greenstone from a quarry close by, and maybe a goldfish or two given by acquaintances or customers from the grocery store (Salmon 10).

Edward constructed a small cottage called "Edankraal," for Anne. This cottage was made of stone and shingles. Most women of the early 20th century did not have time to write poetry all afternoon because they had to do household chores. If a woman did have time to write poetry, she certainly would not have

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