Esther Popel Shaw (1896-1958)

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Esther Popel was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and was the first African American woman to graduate from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1919. After graduation, Popel moved to Baltimore, working for the War Risk Insurance Department and teaching for two years. She then moved to DC. She married William A. Shaw, was widowed in 1946, and raised their daughter, Patricia Shaw Iversen, on her own.

Publishing under her maiden name, Popel was the review editor for The Journal of Negro Education, and published poems, book reviews and essays in Opportunity, The Crisis, The Journal of Negro Life, and The Journal of the National Association of College Women. Fluent in four languages (French, Spanish, Latin, and German), Popel taught languages at two DC Public Schools: Shaw Junior High and Francis Junior High. Popel was an active member of the Saturday Nighters, a literary salon in the home of Georgia Douglas Johnson, and a member of the Lincoln Memorial Temple. She wrote six plays for junior high school students, and was a popular public speaker for women’s clubs in DC and New York. Her book, A Forest Pool, was privately printed as a “gift edition” in Washington, DC in 1934.

In an article, “Personal Adventures in Race Relations,” written for public speaking engagements and published in 1946, she wrote: “At a time when all out energies are needed to meet and solve together the crucial problems of the postwar period, we find a large element of the population torn by resentment, suspicion and hatred. The constant and soul-searching humiliation that is the outgrowth of the dangerously reactionary policies of prejudice and biracialism serves to undermine the faith of the Negro, and other minorities, in the very foundation of the democracy they are asked to defend.”

Beltway Poetry Quarterly: http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/poetry/poets/names/popel-esther/

Submitted by Kim Roberts, June 2015

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