Eden Cemetery Collingdale, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, US
Jessie Redmon Fauset (April 27, 1882 – April 30, 1961) was an African-American editor, poet, essayist, novelist, and educator. Her literary work helped sculpt African-American literature in the 1920s as she focused on portraying a true image of African-American life and history. Her black fictional characters were working professionals which was an inconceivable concept to American society during this time Her story lines related to themes of racial discrimination, "passing", and feminism. From 1919 to 1926, Fauset's position as literary editor of The Crisis, a NAACP magazine, allowed her to contribute to the Harlem Renaissance by promoting literary work that related to the social movements of this era. Through her work as a literary editor and reviewer, she discouraged black writers from lessening the racial qualities of the characters in their work, and encouraged them to write honestly and openly about the African-American race. She wanted a realistic and positive representation of the African-American community in literature that had never before been as prominently displayed. Before and after working on The Crisis, she worked for decades as a French teacher in public schools in Washington, DC, and New York City. She published four novels during the 1920s and 1930s, exploring the lives of the black middle class. She also was the editor and co-author of the African-American children's magazine The Brownies' Book. She is known for discovering and mentoring other African-American writers, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay.
She was born Jessie Redmona Fauset (later known as Jessie Redmon Fauset) on April 27, 1882, in Fredericksville, Camden County, Snow Hill Center Township, New Jersey. The town is now known as Lawnside, New Jersey. She was the seventh child of Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie (née Seamon) Fauset. Jessie's mother died when she was young, and her father remarried. He had three children with his second wife Bella, a white Jewish woman who converted to Christianity. Bella brought three children to the family from her first marriage. Both parents emphasized education for their children.
Fauset came from a large family mired in poverty. Her father died when she was young; two of her half-siblings were still under the age of five. She attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, the city's top academic school. She graduated as valedictorian of her class and likely the school's first African-American graduate. She wanted to study at Bryn Mawr College, but they circumvented the issue of admitting a black student by finding her a scholarship for another university.
She continued her education at Cornell University in upstate New York, graduating in 1905 with a degree in classical languages. During her time at Cornell University in 1903 through part of 1904, Fauset lived at Sage College. She would win Phi Beta Kappa honors. For many years she was considered to be the first black woman accepted to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, but later research revealed this was actually Mary Annette Anderson. Fauset later received her master's degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.
Following college, Fauset became a teacher at Dunbar High School (then named as M Street High School), the academic high school for black students in Washington, DC, which had a segregated public school system. She taught French and Latin, and went to Paris for the summers to study at la Sorbonne.
In 1919 Fauset left teaching to become the literary editor for The Crisis, founded by W. E. B. Du Bois of the NAACP. She served in that position until 1926. Fauset became a member of the NAACP and represented them in the Pan African Congress in 1921. After her Congress speech, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority made her an honorary member.
In 1926, Fauset left The Crisis and returned to teaching, this time at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, where she may have taught a young James Baldwin. She taught in New York City public schools until 1944.
In 1929, when she was 47, Fauset married for the first time, to insurance broker Herbert Harris. They moved from New York City to Montclair, New Jersey, where they led a quieter life. Harris died in 1958. She moved back to Philadelphia with her step-brother, one of Bella's children.
In 1945 Laura Wheeler Waring took a portrait of Jessie Redmon Fauset.
Fauset died on April 30, 1961, from heart disease and is interred at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
As Literary Editor, Fauset fostered the careers of many of the most well-known authors of the Harlem Renaissance, including Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Nella Larsen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Anne Spencer, George Schuyler, Arna Bontemps, and Langston Hughes. Fauset was the first person to publish Hughes. As editor of The Brownies' Book, the children's magazine of The Crisis, she had included a few of his early poems. In his memoir The Big Sea, Hughes wrote, "Jessie Fauset at The Crisis, Charles Johnson at Opportunity, and Alain Locke in Washington were the people who midwifed the so-called New Negro Literature into being."
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