Anne Bethel Spencer

Anne Bethel Spencer (February 6, 1882–July 27, 1975)


Poet Anne Spencer (February 6, 1882–July 27, 1975) was born Annie Bethel Bannister in Henry County, and after her parents separated she grew up as Annie Scales (her mother's maiden name) in Mercer County, West Virginia. She graduated from Virginia Seminary (later Virginia University of Lynchburg) in 1899 and married fellow student Edward Spencer in 1901. They settled in Lynchburg, where they built a house and raised three children.

Spencer fought racial discrimination and in 1913 helped establish a Lynchburg branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A visiting NAACP field agent read Spencer's poetry and urged her to publish. Her first known poem appeared in The Crisis under the name Anne Spencer. Her work, most notably associated with the Harlem Renaissance, was well received and has appeared in numerous anthologies, earning Spencer recognition as an acclaimed American poet. She also influenced many of the African American writers and artists—among them W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson—who stayed with the Spencers while traveling because few Virginia hotels were open to African Americans.

In 1924 Spencer became the librarian at Lynchburg's only branch open to African Americans, which was located at the segregated Dunbar High School. She built its collection, sometimes with her own books, and shaped the reading habits of a generation of students until her retirement in 1945. She gradually withdrew from public life, although she continued to write. In 1976 her house was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Watch Shaun Spencer-Hestor's speech on behalf of her late grandmother, Anne B. Spencer, at the 2016 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History awards ceremony on February 3, 2016.