Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in July of 1875. Her parents, Patricia Moore and Monroe Moore were middle-class residents of the city and part of the Creole community. They sent their daughter to public school in New Orleans after which she attended Straight University’s teaching program.
After Dunbar-Nelson’s graduation she started teaching at Old Marigny Elementary, a public school in New Orleans. Three years passed before the publication of her first collection. It was titled, Violets and Other Tales, and included both short stories and poems. It was published by The Monthly Review. Four years later she would publish, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories.
It was also around this time she moved to Boston and then later New York City where she began corresponding with the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The two married in 1898 after she moved to Washington, D.C. to join him. Alice and Paul were not happy for long. The couple separated in 1902 after Paul came close to beating Dunbar-Nelson to death. He would die only four years later.
Dunbar-Nelson then moved to Delaware where she continued to teach and worked as the co-editor of A.M.E. Review. She was briefly married to a physician by the name of Henry A. Callis, but this marriage ended in divorce. She married again in 1916 to civil rights activist, Robert J. Nelson. They would stay together for the rest of their lives. A few years later Dunbar-Nelson published a one-act play titled, Mine Eyes Have Seen. It was followed by a number of articles for literary and political magazines.
During the late twenties and early thirties, she worked as an executive secretary for the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee. Dunbar-Nelson was very active in the social politics of Delaware, serving at one point as a field representative of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. This was the peak of her career and her essays were appearing frequently, impressing a national audience. She was also co-editing, along with her husband, the Wilmington Advocate. In 1932 the couple moved to Philadelphia. Three years later she was admitted to the hospital for heart trouble where she died in September of 1935.