While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Sandra Y. Govan
Gwendolyn Bennett
Portrait of Gwendolyn Bennetta Bennett. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

BENNETT, GWENDOLYN BENNETTA (1902–1981). Gwendolyn Bennett, black writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, on July 8, 1902, the only child of Joshua Robin and Mayme Frank (Abernathy) Bennett. She spent only one year in Texas. Her paternal grandfather, R. B. Bennett, had come from North Carolina on a wagon train and was a small rancher and then a barber in Giddings. Her father had been a principal in a Gonzales, Texas, black high school from 1901 to 1903. In 1903 he moved his family to Wadsworth, Nevada, where he and his wife taught in the Indian Service for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gwen Bennett's earliest memories were of life on this Paiute Indian reservation. In 1906 the Bennetts moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a clerk for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and enrolled in the Howard University School of Law. He obtained his law degree in 1908. His wife filed for divorce in 1910 and was awarded custody of Gwendolyn. Joshua subsequently kidnapped Gwendolyn and took her with him as he moved from Washington to Pennsylvania and, finally, to Brooklyn, New York. There, Gwendolyn Bennett came of age at the start of the Harlem Renaissance.

Gwendolyn Bennett
Gwendolyn Bennett with one of her paintings. Courtesy of the University of Illinois. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
The Crisis
Bennett's "The Pipes of Pan" featured on the cover of The Crisis, March 1924. Courtesy of Yale University Libraries. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In her childhood she had recited long poems to appreciative adults and painted well. She attended Girls' High School in Brooklyn, where she became the first African American in the school's literary and drama societies; she also won first place in an art contest. Subsequently, she attended Columbia University (1921) and then Pratt Institute (1922–24), studying art education. During this time she began publishing. In December 1923 Opportunity, the official organ of the National Urban League, accepted her poem "Heritage," and The Crisis, the official organ for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, carried her cover illustration. From 1923 to 1931 Bennett's poetry periodically appeared in The Crisis, Opportunity, Psalms, and The Gypsy, and several anthologies. During this same period she produced five journal cover illustrations. In 1926 Fire!!, a small arts magazine begun by African-American artists Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Bruce Nugent, and Gwen Bennett, among others, carried "Wedding Day," her first published story. Her second story, "Tokens," appeared in Charles S. Johnson's Ebony and Topaz (1927).

She accepted a position as instructor at Howard University in 1924, teaching design, watercolor, and crafts. She received a fellowship to study art in Paris in 1925 and at the Barnes Foundation in Marion, Pennsylvania, in 1927. Also in 1927 she married Dr. Alfred Joseph Jackson, who had been an intern at Freedman's Hospital, Howard University. The young couple moved to Eustis, Florida, where they resided until the early 1930s, when they returned to New York.

Gwendolyn Bennett
Gwendolyn Bennett at the Carver School in New York City, 1945. Courtesy of the Collection of Elizabeth Catlett estate and the International Review of African American Art. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Jackson died in 1936 and Bennett remarried in 1940, when she met Richard Crosscup, a literature teacher and social activist. Their interracial marriage was not a socially accepted union. In 1935 Bennett joined the Harlem Artists Guild; from 1939 to 1944 she directed the Harlem Community Art Center but was suspended for her political convictions. In the early 1940s she served on the board of the Negro Playwright's Guild, and she directed the development of the George Washington Carver Community School. She was one of the most versatile figures to participate actively both in the 1920s arts movement known as the Harlem Renaissance and in the 1930s arts alliance formed among African-American graphic artists called the Harlem Artists Guild.

Gwendolyn Bennett
Painting, oil on canvas by Gwendolyn Bennett, 1931. Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and the International Review of African American Art. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Gwendolyn Bennett never returned to Giddings. She retired from public life in the 1940s but remained in New York until 1968. Through the 1950s to the mid-1960s she worked for the Consumers Union. When she retired from this agency, she and her husband moved to Kutztown, Pennsylvania, where she had established an antique store. On January 9, 1980, Richard Crosscup died of sudden heart failure. His wife died on May 30, 1981, in the Reading County Hospital.


Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 51. Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Women (Detroit: Gale Research, 1992).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Sandra Y. Govan, "BENNETT, GWENDOLYN BENNETTA," accessed July 12, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbebz.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on August 10, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...