Scarce first edition of Original Poems and Essays [Mental Pearls] by African American poet and suffragist Bettiola Heloise Fortson.
Octavo, 62pp. Light blue cloth, title stamped in gilt on cover. Sound binding. Cloth worn, heavy rubbing to edges, fraying at corners and spine ends, soiling to covers. Toning to endpapers and text pages, intermittent soiling to pages, faint dampstain to the top edge of some pages, one dog-eared page. Two plates (frontispiece portrait of author and exterior view of St. Mark Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago). Previous ownership notation in blue ink on front pastedown endpaper. Only ten copies located in institutions (8 listed in OCLC, 2 additional in NUC). (Schomburg, A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry, page 19) A good example of this scarce work by a young African American woman.
Bettiola Heloise Fortson (1890-1917) was a poet and suffragist. She began writing poetry at a young age, being named the poet laureate of her eighth grade class. After graduating high school, she learned the feather trade and went into business as a milliner. She was active in several clubs in Chicago, serving as president of the University Society of Chicago, second vice president of the Alpha Suffrage Club, and city organizer of the Chicago Federation of Women’s Clubs. In 1914, having a desire to publish her poetry, Fortson approached Julius F. Taylor, editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper, The Broad Ax. Taylor offered to publish some of her poems in an issue of The Broad Ax, printing 500 copies for her to sell at the convention of the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in Wilberforce, Ohio. All proceeds of the sale went directly to Fortson, enabling her to publish this book in 1915. Fortson’s book of poetry sold for 50 cents, and it contains 23 poems and 2 historical essays. Her poems include dedications to journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, educator Booker T. Washington and business woman Madame C.J. Walker. Not long after publishing her book, Bettiola Fortson died of tuberculosis in 1917. She was only 26.