college president, activist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Born Mary Rice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she was the acknowledged daughter of confederate general John R. Jones and Malinda Rice, who was hired as a servant in his household at the age of seventeen in 1873. There appears to have been some enduring affection between Jones and Rice. He acknowledged paternity of Mary and her brother William, and his first wife, Sarah, ill and often confined to bed, asked to see the children and gave them presents. Mary Rice was raised in part by John Rice, Malinda's brother, and his wife Dolly. She also spent time in Jones's household, and after Sarah Jones died in 1879 the general bought a house for Malinda and her children The immediate neighborhood was racially mixed ...
Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts, to an unusual family. Her father was a Quaker; at the religious meetings she attended as a child, women were allowed to speak and were on an equal footing with men. The family was prosperous, and her parents encouraged freethinking and activism in their children. Anthony became an abolitionist and participant in the Underground Railroad. She is best remembered as one of the leaders and organizers of the women's suffrage movement.
Anthony's family moved from Massachusetts to Rochester, New York, in 1845. Over the next few years, the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass also a resident of Rochester became a frequent visitor and speaker at Sunday meetings at the Anthony farm where abolition was discussed Like many reform minded people of the day Anthony also joined the local temperance society After being denied the chance to speak at ...
Kristal Brent Zook
journalist and historian of the early West, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the eldest of five children of Daniel Beasley, an engineer, and Margaret (Heines) Beasley, a homemaker. Although little is known about her childhood, at the age of twelve Beasley published her first writings in the black-owned newspaper, the Cleveland Gazette. By the time she was fifteen she was working as a columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, becoming the first African American woman to write for a mainstream newspaper on a regular basis.
Beasley lost both parents as a teenager and was forced to take a full-time job working as a domestic laborer for the family of a white judge named Hagan. Her career then took several unusual turns as Beasley, who was described by biographer Lorraine Crouchett as short well proportioned and speaking in a shrill light voice perhaps because of a chronic hearing ...
Darlene Clark Hine
organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born Mary Jane McLeod in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of the former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (later Barber‐Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at Dwight Moody's evangelical Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois. In 1898 she married Albertus Bethune. They both taught briefly at Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina. The marriage was not happy. They had one child and separated late in 1907. After teaching in a number of schools, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Training Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904 Twenty years later the school merged with a boys school the ...
Elaine M. Smith
Long deemed the most influential black American woman, Bethune is, by scholarly consensus, one of the most important black Americans in history regardless of gender, alongside Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr. Unflinchingly, she championed the democratic values that define the nation. She took personally the well-being of the body politic, particularly in the crisis of two world wars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt viewed Bethune as a great patriot devoted to advancing all Americans. Bethune’s accomplishments were so impressive in relationship to resources, and her interest in people, regardless of nationality and locality, was so genuine, that any freedom-loving country could feel proud to claim her as its own.
Henry B. Lovejoy
Free black creole of the Lucumí nation, and leader of the famous Mutual Aid Society of the Lucumí Nation of Santa Bárbara, remembered among modern-day practitioners of Cuban Santería as Ṣàngó tẹ̀ dún.
Little documentation exists for Maria Francisca Camejo, and from birth she could have been enslaved or free. The name “Camejo” was common throughout Spain’s empire, and to this day remains popular in the tobacco-growing region of the Piñar del Rio region in western Cuba. Since the eighteenth century, if not earlier, this family engaged in tobacco production for the royal monopoly based at the factory in Havana. By the 1790s a branch of this family residing and trading tobacco in the capital city likely owned María Francisca as a domestic slave. Camejo identified as Lucumí, but baptism records from the early nineteenth century indicate she identified as a “black creole” (morena criolla Like so many ...
Caryn E. Neumann
the first African American woman elected to the Florida legislature, grew up (and was likely born) in Miami. Cherry earned her bachelor's degree from the predominantly black Florida A & M University (FAMU) in 1946. She belonged to Sigma Gamma Rho, a black Greek-letter organization, and later served as legal counsel to the sorority from 1970 until 1970. Cherry obtained a master's degree from New York University in 1950. In the era of segregation, talented African Americans often left the South to obtain advanced degrees. Unlike many of them, Sawyer returned home to teach school, marry, and have children, before deciding to return to academic life. She earned a law degree cum laude in 1965 from FAMU, after serving as secretary of the Student Bar Association. She was the first black woman to practice law in Dade County, Florida.
A Democrat Cherry was elected to the Florida ...
Kimberly A. Sisson
poet, clubwoman, and political activist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Mary Evans and Joshua T. Williams, whose occupation is now unknown. In 1870 the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Mary Evans opened a successful wig-making business that operated for over twenty years. Carrie Williams attended the first integrated school in Columbus; whether she pursued higher education is unknown, however it is known that during the 1880s she taught in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
In 1886, at the age of twenty-four, she married William H. Clifford, a two-term Republican state representative from Cleveland. They would have two sons. As part of the black middle class in Cleveland, Clifford and her husband socialized with other important black figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and George A. Meyers. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois made frequent appearances in Cleveland joining the Cliffords ...
Debra Foster Greene
was born to James Williams and Elizabeth Butler Foster in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada. The family moved to Monroe, Michigan, where James purchased a livery stable business which he operated until 1893. Upon retirement, he purchased a twenty-three-acre homestead and ran a successful fruit and dairy farm. Cook was one of seven children. She graduated high school in 1889 and served as a part-time teacher in Monroe until she relocated to Kentucky to become principal of a Baptist normal school. Cook left the position to teach high school in Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1900 she married Dr. Louis G. Todd and relocated to Muskogee, Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma Cook continued teaching and established a Dorcus Club a church based organization that provided aid to the poor She organized a lecture and recital series that brought African American actors and educators to Oklahoma Cook was a charter member of the Oklahoma State Federation ...
Anna Julia Cooper is best known for her book A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892), a classic in the tradition known today as the woman of color standpoint in social theory. No one before, except perhaps Sojourner Truth, had so clearly defined what Cooper called “the colored woman’s office” in the moral politics of late-nineteenth-century America.
Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Her white biological father, George Washington Haywood, was her mother’s owner. Of her biological father, Cooper once wrote: “I owe him not a sou and she [her mother] was always too shamefaced ever to mention him.” The child grew to carry herself with the mother’s sense of dignity and propriety.
Anna Julia s life began just before the outbreak of the American Civil War and ...
Lisa Clayton Robinson
“Only the Black Woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’” In this passage from her speech “Womanhood a Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” published in her 1892 work A Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South Anna Julia Cooper expresses one of her most important beliefs In her writings and speeches Cooper often argued that the status of the entire black race was dependent on the status of the women who run the homes and raise the children and that one of the best ways to elevate black women s status was to increase their educational opportunities As an activist and educator she spent most of her life simultaneously promoting these ideas and putting ...
Lisa Clayton Robinson
Of her college experience, Frances (Fanny) Jackson Coppin remembered: “I never rose to recite in my classes at Oberlin but I felt that I had the honor of the whole African race upon my shoulders. I felt that, should I fail, it would be ascribed to the fact that I was colored.” This describes a burden that many blacks still carry 150 years later—the suspicion that for their white peers, they somehow represent the entire race. Despite this pressure, however, Coppin shone at Oberlin College in Ohio, and she went on to shine as a teacher, school principal, and activist throughout the next fifty years.
Coppin was born a slave in Washington, D.C. the daughter of a slave mother and a white father An aunt purchased Coppin s freedom when she was twelve years old and sent her to live with another aunt in New Bedford Massachusetts They moved ...
Kelly Boyer Sagert
Born in Philadelphia, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was the youngest of five children of the devoted Quakers John and Mary Edmondson Dickinson. When Anna was two years old, her father died shortly after giving an antislavery speech. Although it is unlikely that Dickinson remembered her father, she may have been inspired by his legacy.
After John's death the family struggled financially, but Anna still received a quality education, attending the Friends' Select School in Philadelphia and the Greenwood Institute in New Brighton, Pennsylvania; at the latter she was known as an avid reader and questioner. She showed early promise, publishing her first article at age fourteen in the Liberator, the newspaper that served as a platform for the radical reformer and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
Following her 1860 address to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and her 1861 speech entitled Women s Rights and Wrongs Dickinson began receiving ...
Lisa Clayton Robinson
Alice Nelson was born into a mixed Creole, African American, and Native American family in New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from the two-year teacher training program at Straight College (now Dillard University) in 1892 and taught school at various times throughout her life. Dunbar-Nelson published her first book, a collection of poetry, short stories, essays, and reviews called Violets and Other Tales in 1895. Paul Laurence Dunbar, the well-known poet, began to correspond with her after admiring her poetry (as well as her picture) in a Boston, Massachusetts, magazine. They married on March 8, 1898.
The Dunbars moved to Washington, D.C., where they were lionized as a literary celebrity couple. Dunbar-Nelson's second collection of short fiction, The Goodness of St. Rocque, was published in 1899 as a companion to her husband's Poems of Cabin and Field While Dunbar was known for his ...
Michelle D. Commander
educator and civic activist, was born Mary Elizabeth Garvin in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents, George Washington Garvin, a carpenter, and Rebecca Mary Logan Bellinger, a seamstress, had seven other children, four of whom died in childhood. As a young girl, Fields was enthralled with learning new ideas, and she began attending Shaw School in her neighborhood when she was just three years old. Her mother's side of the family, particularly the Middleton branch, was regarded as middle class, and many of her relatives were formally educated beyond high school in preparation for professional careers. Fields and her siblings were encouraged by their parents to attend Avery Institute, a private school renowned for the excellent education that it offered middle- and upper-class African American youth. While Herbert, Harriet, and Ruth accepted their parents prodding a defiant Mamie refused to be educated at a school ...
Kelly J. Baker
Abby Kelley was born in Pelham, Massachusetts, to parents of Irish-Quaker descent. She graduated from a Friends' school in Rhode Island in 1829 and became a teacher. In 1836 she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, for a teaching position. While in Lynn, Kelley became involved with the Lynn Female Society, an antislavery organization for women. She quickly gained positions as secretary and eventually as director of the organization. Kelley became involved in the abolitionist cause, and William Lloyd Garrison's attacks on slavery in particular impressed her. After hearing her speak at an antislavery meeting, Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld encouraged Kelley to join the antislavery cause as a lecturer; in 1839 she left teaching to join the lecture circuit It is possible that she was the first woman after the Grimké sisters to speak before mixed audiences Kelley was scorned and mocked by many of her audiences ...
Carol Parker Terhune
abolitionist and social leader, was born in New York City to free parents, James and Dorothy Gardner. Her father was a shipping contractor who made sails for large vessels. About 1845, while Gardner was in her teens, her family took up residence in Boston, Massachusetts, and opened its own business. Gardner attended the Boston Public School for Colored Children (also known as the Smith School, after the white businessman Abiel Smith, who donated funds). She was educated by leaders in the antislavery movement and developed an appreciation for their cause. The school was also used as a meeting place for the “colored citizens” to discuss issues of concern in their communities. During Gardner's time in Boston's only “colored” grammar school, Boston's African American community was fighting tirelessly to abolish colored schools and end school segregation using the Roberts v. Boston case as the catalyst Gardner ...
GVGK (Grace) Tang
was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the eldest of three children of Michael Gay, a civil engineer, and Nicole Gay, a homemaker. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Port-au-Prince, Haiti separately, and met in New York City at a wedding. Gay spent her childhood moving around the country for her father’s work—living in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Virginia—then returning to Omaha once each project was complete. Gay attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire, for grades nine through twelve, graduating in 1992.
As early as age four Gay enjoyed telling stories and knew she wanted to be a writer Unable to write by hand at such a young age she learned to use a typewriter Gay was also a voracious reader finishing up to three books in one day Gay s parents encouraged her academic success her mother gave ...
Sophia D. West
Angelina Emily Grimké was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest daughter of John and Mary Grimké. Her father was a well-known South Carolina judge as well as a powerful planter and slaveholder. Grimké owed much of her early upbringing and education to her sister, Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873), who was thirteen years her senior and her godmother. Maintaining their close relationship throughout their lives, the sisters often collaborated on and influenced each other's writing. They traced their abhorrence of slavery to their earliest memories of the struggles of slaves in their own home. The sisters were remarkable not only for their positions on slavery and women's rights but also because they turned their backs on an affluent slaveholding lifestyle, choosing instead a life of poverty without slaves and working for the freedom of slaves and the emancipation of women.
Eventually the Grimké sisters moved north to ...
Sophia D. West
Born into a prominent slaveholding family in Charleston, South Carolina, Sarah Moore Grimké was the elder sister and godmother of Angelina Emily Grimké (1805–1879). John Grimké, their father, was a well-known South Carolina judge, a prominent planter, and a powerful slaveholder; their mother was Mary Smith. In 1821 Sarah Grimké became a member of the Society of Friends and moved to Philadelphia, where she was joined by her sister Angelina in 1829. Both sisters would later defy the Quaker tradition, finding the Society's opposition to slavery too moderate.
The Grimké sisters were among the first members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which formed in 1835. From 1836 to 1838 the pair traveled throughout the North writing and lecturing about their experiences with slavery on their family plantation Though notable for their positions on both slavery and women s rights the sisters are ...