Like any great cultural moment fueled by innovations in art, music, writing, and intellectual thought, the Harlem Renaissance, which spanned the glittering 1920s (and rougher 1930s), was not without its fair share of social butterflies for whom rubbing elbows and looking fabulous was a calling. Although the scene was filled with iconic bohemians, creatives, and intelligentsia whose work has inspired generations, they all wanted to know one woman: Blanche Dunn.
The ultimate It Girl – a nightlife, fashion, and gossip column darling – was a fixture at all the hottest speakeasies and roaring fetes of the time. As the writer Richard Bruce Nugent once wrote of her, “She knew everyone, and when they came to Harlem they all (everyone) looked for her. A party was not a party, a place not a place without Blanche.” But despite her glamorous life and A-list reputation, her name has sadly been obscured by the passage of time. And that, of course, means it’s time for little socialite history lesson.