Georgia Douglas Johnson and Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935) were the elder mentors mentors of the renaissance generation of black women poets. Wary of combining racial issues with poetry, Dunbar-Nelson wrote some of her best-known poems protesting other ills than racism; "I Sit and Sew" is the dramatic monologue of a woman stifled by the "pretty futile seam" she works on, conscious of "The Panoply of war, the martial tread of
Men" outside her "homely thatch." (Dreams, 74). The poem’s "impassioned commentary on the narrowness of culturally defined sexual roles" (Hull, 80) is clear, as is the connection it draws between those sex roles and militarism. In "The Proletariat Speaks" (Dreams, 75), Dunbar-Nelson challenges the period's stereotypical leftist image of the proletarian as a burly, half-naked industrial worker. Her proletarian is a woman, an office worker whose daily confinement is painfully at odds with her yearning for "beautiful things"--the consolations of art and the sensual pleasures of a middle-class dream-life. Like her poetry, Dunbar-Nelson's political activism encompassed many forms of oppression: as public speaker and writer of fiction and journalism as well as poetry, she worked for women's suffrage, in peace organizations, and in anti-lynching campaigns.