top of page
  • Writer's pictureValerie Harris

Illustrating "The Crisis" Pt. 2

“Dear Miss Wheeler, I am returning herewith one of the pictures which you made for Jessie Fauset’s story…. “

Laura’s work as an illustrator and as an artist progressed nicely through 1918. She got to illustrate a play by Alice Dunbar Nelson, the ex-wife of the famed Negro poet, Paul Dunbar Nelson, which appeared in the April issue of The Crisis and in August, along with several other Crisis contributing artists, she showed six paintings in an exhibition mounted by the black bibliophile Arthur A. Schomburg and the Negro Library Association at the Y.M.C.A. in Brooklyn, New York.

However, a most interesting turn of events that summer involved her friend and collaborator, Jessie Fauset. The French teacher decided not to return to her position at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. but rather to contract with The Crisis as its new Literary Editor. Jessie had been eagerly contributing articles and hours to The Crisis pro bono for over five years. Now as a contracted editor she would earn a salary of $50 a month working primarily from home in Philadelphia the first year. This was far less than her teacher’s salary, but the opportunity to work in close proximity with her “cher maître” W.E.B. DuBois, and the status the position would afford her within the cultural community, more than offset the loss of wages.

Jessie took her role as Literary Editor of The Crisis very seriously. The 37-year-old became an exacting “boss lady” almost overnight, although her name did not appear on the masthead until well into her second year, when she relocated to New York. The rejection letters to writers whose submissions did not meet The Crisis’ (now Jessie’s) standard were more abrupt now than those previously sent by DuBois. The new Literary Editor’s letters were likely to read, “We couldn’t use this poem. We hope that you will try again. Yours truly…” –not unlike an impatient high school English (or French) teacher.

study of head of a black man
LWW Crisis Cover, August 1919

With Jessie’s arrival at The Crisis Laura had two covers published—in August 1919 and in September 1919. Covers got more attention than illustrations and paid better (though neither

paid much).

But not even Laura Wheeler, her friend and travel buddy, was exempt from Jessie’s sharp critique. After submitting illustrations for one of Jessie’s short stories scheduled to appear in the December 1919 issue, Laura received a note from DuBois, who used his invariable charm to soften his editor’s disparaging eye.

“Dear Miss Wheeler,” he began. “I am returning herewith one of the pictures which you made for Jessie Fauset’s story…. It is excellent, except Miss Fauset does not like the young lady’s face. Can you not fix that front line of the face? I know it is difficult but try it, and return the picture as soon as possible. The rest of it is excellent.”

Laura was probably not bothered by the request. At 32, she had developed a brand of professionalism that put far greater emphasis on the outcomes of her interactions with people than on the tone or the personalities of those who had the ability to make things happen for her. She had an affinity for relationships of this kind and instinctively sought to maintain them.

Over the next several years, Laura would contribute numerous illustrations to The Crisis—despite juggling her many responsibilities at Cheyney Training School for Teachers while attempting to maintain her visibility as a fine artist.

drawings by Laura Wheeler Waring
Laura Wheeler Waring Crisis Illustrations

From her first Crisis cover in 1913 while still at student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Laura Wheeler Waring became one of the magazine’s most frequently published artists. Her contributions—often stylized pen and ink, though she often appealed for color—would appear beyond1926 when Jessie Fauset left to devote herself full time to her own writing career until shortly before the ever outspoken DuBois was nudged out of his senior role at The Crisis by an increasingly frustrated NAACP Board in1934.

But by the mid-1930s, magazine illustration was less important to Laura Wheeler Waring. Her career as an exhibiting portraitist and painter was on the upswing.

© 2023-2026 Valerie Harris. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page