African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Eloise Bibb (Eloise Bibb Thompson), Author Page

This profile of Eloise Bibb was written by Kate Hennessey, Lehigh University. February 2024. 

Poems and collections by Eloise Bibb (Eloise Bibb Thompson after marriage). 

Eloise A. Bibb (Thompson) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 29th, 1878. She grew up in an African-American middle class family with her mother Catherine Adele Brian Bibb and her father Charles H. Bibb, who was a civil war veteran and worked as a U.S. Customs inspector. Throughout her life, Bibb sought out educational opportunities. She first was educated at New Orleans University for teaching and taught in New Orleans. She also attended Oberlin Academy from 1899 to 1901 and graduated from Howard University in 1907 and took a course at the New York School of Philanthropy at Columbia. 

Bibb worked at Howard University as head resident at their associated Social Settlement House from 1908-1911. By 1911 both of her parents died and she inherited her family’s estate of around $75,000. In this same year, she married fellow writer, editor, and civil rights activist Noah Thompson, whom she met while visiting the Tuskegee Institute where Thompson worked as an assistant to Booker T. Washington. They married in Chicago in 1911 and then moved to Los Angeles for her husband’s work. 

Much of the history of Bibb focuses on the three plays she wrote while in Los Angeles, which were all produced on stage. She was also an active writer for newspapers such as the Lost Angeles Tribune, “Tidings,” and Morning Sun. However, Bibb first published her volume of poems, Poems, in 1895 at only seventeen years old with the Monthly Review Press. At the time, male critics did not review these poems very highly, most likely discounting the age at which she wrote them. 

Bibb dedicated her book to S.F. Williams, the president of the Phillis Wheatley Club in New Orleans. The club was part of a national effort by African-American women to work towards social reform such as suffrage and desegregation. In her preface, Bibb self-consciously writes “I timidly present this little volume to the public with a full knowledge of its many faults” (5). She also expresses both anxiety and gratitude about the reception of these poems, which “if fortune should place my work in the hands of some clever judge, even though his criticism might seem harsh and unmerciful, I should feel that his judgements would benefit me in the future” (5). 

Bibb dedicated many of the poems in her book to historical figures, especially those working towards freedom and civil rights for African Americans. The first poem in the collection, “In Memoriam Frederick Douglass,” remembers the bravery and “genius” of Douglass. She also includes “Sonnet to Dr. D.A. Martinet” and “Lines to Hon. Geo L. Knox,” which both honor the editors of African American newspapers. Bibb also includes poems on important women, such as: “Tribute,” which is dedicated to the poet and activist Alice Dunbar Nelson; Catherine of Arragon; Anne Boleyn. 

In her anthology of African-American Poetry in the Nineteenth Century, Joan Sherman describes Bibb’s love poems as full of “star crossed lovers and agonized heroes; their catastrophes differ, but the characters vary in little more than their names” (434). Some highlights include: “Destiny;” “Gerarda;” “The Vestal Virgin;” “A Tale of Italy.” 

Bibb was very active in Catholic circles and so it is no surprise that religion is also a major theme in her poems. Some highlights include: “Belshazzer's Feast” which describes a deadly feast put on my the King; “The Expulsion of Hagar” covers the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael; “An Offering” completes the collection of poems with the speaker offers their life to God. 

In 1927 the Thompsons moved to New York City and on January 8, 1928 Eloise Bibb Thompson died of cancer. 

Works Cited:

"An Honor to Womankind – Eloise Bibb Thompson (Poet, Journalist, Playwright, Social Worker, Laywoman).” Creologen. May 23, 2014. 

Ann Allen Shockley. Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide. Boston: G K Hall, 1988. 

M. Anthony Scally (Mary). Negro Catholic Writers, 1900-1943. Detroit: W. Romig & company, 1945. 

"Obituary for Eloise A. Bibb BIBB.” Newspapers by New York, New York, Jan14, 1928, pg 10. 

Sherman, Joan. African-American Poetry of The Nineteenth Century. University of Illinois Press,1992. 

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