Sisters In Suffrage
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
At one time, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was the most well-known Black woman in the country. She was an educator, pioneering journalist, an early leader in the civil rights movement and a founder of the NAACP. As an ardent suffragist, she worked with both white and African-American suffrage organizations. Wells-Barnett was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”
Vilma Socorro Martinez
Ambassador Vilma Socorro Martinez, a labor lawyer, who as president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, helped secure an extension of the Voting Rights Act to include Mexican Americans among the groups it protected. In 1975, Congress agreed to extend the existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act to include Mexican Americans. Later, Martin served as the first woman U.S. ambassador to Argentina.
One of our most famous women of history, Isabella Baumfree was an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who escaped from slavery with her infant daughter in New York in 1826. Adopting the name Sojourner Truth, she became an itinerant preacher and grew to become a nationally known advocate for equality and justice, advocating for a variety of social reforms, including women’s property rights, universal suffrage, and prison reform.
Mabel Ping Hua-Lee
Mabel Ping Hua-Lee was a Chinese advocate for women’s suffrage, a member of the Women’s Political Equality League, and the head of the First Chinese Baptist Church in New York’s Chinatown for more than 40 years. Hua-Lee led on horseback a suffragist parade New York City in 1912, attended by ten thousand people. Mabel, however, could not vote in any elections due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Margaret Murray Washington
“Margaret Murray Washington was an educator and a reformer. In 1890, she became the lady principal at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founding the Tuskegee Woman’s Club. By 1915, Washington had become president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which she had co-founded. When Susan B. Anthony invited national women’s organizations to enter official statements to be published in the fourth volume of the History of Woman Suffrage, Washington responded for the NACW and her statement was the sole representation of Black women in that volume.”
Meri Te Tai Mangakahia
A campaigner for women’s suffrage in New Zealand, Meri Te Tai Mangakahia was a suffragist who inspired future generations of Māori women. In 1893, Mangakahia addressed a Maorip parliament (the first woman to do so), submitting a motion in favor of women being allowed to vote for, and stand as, members of the Kotahitanga Parliament. In 1897, Maori women won the right to vote.
Harriet Forten Purvis
Harriet Forten Purvis was an African American abolitionist and first-generation suffragist. Harriet and her sisters were founding members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and members of the American Equal Rights Association, where Harriet served on the executive committee. Affluent and educated, the sisters helped lay the groundwork for the first National Woman’s Rights Convention in October 1854 and helped organize the Philadelphia Suffrage Association in 1866.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, (1842 -1924)
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was the first African-American graduate of Harvard Law School, first African American elected to Boston City Council and the first African-American municipal judge. In 1869, she joined with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman Suffrage Association. She founded a number of other organizations for Black women, convened the First National Conference of the Colored Women of America, was one of the founders of the NAACP, and published Woman’s Era, the country’s first national newspaper written by and for African-American women.
Adelina Otero-Warren, (1881 –1965)
“Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren’s enthusiasm for suffrage proved crucial to the movement in New Mexico, where she became a leader in the efforts of the National Woman’s Party to organize the state. Descended from elite Hispanos, or settlers of Spanish-speaking origins, she garnered support for women’s suffrage among Spanish- and English-speaking communities. She later served as New Mexico’s first female government official and made an unsuccessful congressional bid in 1922.”
Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett, (1861 –1929)
She was a Native Hawaiian suffragist who helped organize the National Women’s Equal Suffrage Association of Hawaii, the first women’s suffrage club in the Territory of Hawaii in 1912. She actively campaigned for the rights of the women of Hawaii to vote prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920.
Susette La Flesche, (1854 -1903)
“She served as an expert witness and worked as an interpreter in court cases that Native peoples brought against the federal government. She also received widespread fame as an orator, speaking out about the lack of rights afforded tribes. As activists, they lobbied strenuously to improve conditions on reservations and for U.S. citizenship, which was granted to them only in 1924.”
“Keri Gray is the senior director of stakeholder engagement and strategic communications with the American Association of People with Disabilities. She started a campaign called “Rev Up” to urge people with disabilities to vote and to educate poll workers on what it means to make a polling place accessible.”
Marcia Johnson Blanco
“Marcia Johnson-Blanco is the Co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project. She manages the Project’s programmatic and advocacy portfolios which include leading Election Protection, the nation’s largest non-partisan voter protection program, overseeing the work of the National Commission on Voting Rights, promoting election reform, ensuring minority participation in the redistricting process and ensuring that those with felony convictions regain their right to vote.” Marcia Johnson-Blanco
Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Shadd Cary was an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She was the first female African-American newspaper editor in North America when she edited The Provincial Freeman from Canada that sought to empower African-Americans. Shadd Cary joined the National Woman Suffrage Association, testifying before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S.House of Representatives, and becoming the first African-American woman to vote in a national election.
Sofia Reyes de Veyra
“While advocating for Philippine independence and living in D.C., Sofia de Veyra and other Filipinas joined local women’s organizations that supported the American suffrage movement. Upon returning to the Philippines, these pioneering women formed women’s clubs and eventually won the right to vote on April 30, 1937.”
Alice Wong is a disability activist, media maker, and consultant. She is a co-partner of the #CripTheVote movement. #CripTheVote is a nonpartisan campaign to engage both voters and politicians in a productive discussion about disability issues in the United States, with the hope that disability takes on greater prominence within the American political landscape.
In her work as a co-founder of the National Council of American Indians in 1924, Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Dakota Sioux) was an author, musician, composer, lecturer, translator and suffrage activist who ran a voter-registration drive among Native Americans. She lobbied for the Indian Citizenship Act that granted Native Americans U.S. citizenship, but it did not grant those living on reservations the right to vote in local and state elections. Zitkala-Ša continued to work for civil rights, and better access to health care and education for Native Americans until her death in 1938.
Yara is the co-founder of Eighteen x 18. Eighteen x 18 was launched in January, just one month before Shahidi’s 18th birthday. She describes it as a nonpartisan platform to help young people understand just what exactly is going on in politics and to inform them about their power at the polls.
Milagros Benet de Mewton
After the United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain, inhabitants of the island gained U. S. citizenship. Benet de Mewton, an educator and women’s rights advocate, joined the first suffragist organization in Puerto Rico, Liga Femínea Puertorriqueña in 1917. When U.S. women gained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, Benet de Mewton led the push to extend its coverage to Puerto Rico by suing and losing in Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court, and later by successfully pressing the U.S. Congress to recognize their voting rights, in 1929.
“Jessica has served as the Vice President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) since incorporation in 2011 and is the current Research and Policy Director. She was involved with the drafting and ultimate passing of Amendment 4 in Florida, which eliminated the lifetime ban on voting for people with felony conviction and then re-enfranchised over 1.45 million people with past felony convictions in the state of Florida.”
Harper was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer, one of the first African American women to be published in the United States. “She was a founding member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and in 1873, after returning from a tour of freedman’s communities in the reconstructed states of the South, she delivered the closing speech at the AWSA convention in New York. Harper told the convention, “As much as white women need the ballot, colored women need it more. She called for equal rights and equal access to education for Black women, clearly defining race as a factor in the denial of women’s rights.”
Maria de Lopez
She was a California suffragist and an educator from Los Angeles. In the 1910s, Evangelina de Lopez campaigned and translated at rallies in Southern California, where suffragists distributed tens of thousands of pamphlets in Spanish. She was also the president of the College of Equal Suffrage League of Southern California when suffrage was won in 1911. In 1902, she became the youngest instructor at the University of California, making her possibly the first Latina to teach at UCLA. During WW I Evangelina de Lopez learned to fly a plane and served in the ambulance corps in France. She was later cited for bravery by the French government.
Semans, an enrolled member Rosebud Sioux Tribe, ran Four Directions’ get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation in South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the 2014 election. Semans hired drivers and set up a command center to help tribal members get to the polls. Her team transported voters from around the 2.1 million-acre reservation to a single polling place in Pine Ridge Village. In August 2016, Semans helped conduct a comprehensive survey of over 800 voting age Native Americans in Nevada, and nearly 600 in South Dakota, that focused on highlighting discrimination and disparities in voting access for Native Americans.
Tye Leung Schulze
Tye Leung became the first Chinese American woman to vote when she cast a ballot in San Francisco on May 19, 1912. Leung who was in her early twenties may have been the first Chinese woman worldwide to cast a vote. She also became the first Chinese American woman to pass the civil service exams and to occupy a government job. She had a successful career as a translator in helping many immigrants. In 1911, the year before Leung cast her first vote, California became the sixth state to pass laws that granted equal suffrage, after Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Washington.
Rosa May Billinghurst
Rosa May Billinghurst was a suffragette and women’s rights activist in England. She belonged to the Women’s Liberal Association, the Women’s Social and Political Union, and later the Suffragette Fellowship. Though unable to walk due to childhood polio, Billinghurst was a heroic activist who did not let her disability get in the way of taking part in marches and demonstrations through the use of a modified tricycle. She participated in the British suffragettes’ window-smashing actions and was sentenced to several terms in prison, where she went on a hunger strike and was force-fed. She stopped her activities after Parliament gave some women the right to vote in 1918.
“Her advocacy work began when she sought to regain her own voting rights after release from a Maryland prison. As a result of Kimberly’s direction, hard work and with the support of organizations and affected individuals, the Maryland House and Senate in March 2007 approved the Voting Rights Protection Act, which re-enfranchised conservatively 50,000 residents who had completed their sentences. Since that time, Kimberly Haven has served as the executive director of Justice Maryland and the Maryland Justice Project. She was the project director for the Maryland Public Defender’s Pre-Trial and Bail Reform Campaign organizing one of the first court watch projects for bail reform efforts.”
Gertrude Bustill Mossell
Mossell was from a prominent free African American family of reformers and married to a physician.
“A professional journalist (Mrs. N. F. Mossell), she wrote a women’s column in T. Thomas Fortune’s newspaper, The New York Freeman. Her first article, entitled “Woman Suffrage,” published in 1885, encouraged women to read suffrage history and articles on women’s rights. Her pro-suffrage arguments were similar to other African American suffragists of that era in calling for a Federal Amendment to enfranchise women, and she directed her arguments to the Black community through the Black press.
Mary Church Terrell
Mary was born in Memphis, Tenn. to a family of former enslaved persons who became quite wealthy. After earning several college degrees, Terrell became a teacher, moving to Washington, D.C. to continue her teaching and begin her activism. In 1892 when a friend was lynched, she joined Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s campaign to end lynching. Terrell’s work focused on uplifting black people through education, work, and activism to end racial discrimination. She embraced women’s suffrage as a way to elevate the status of black women. She was president of the National Association of Colored Women and is recognized as one of the founders of the NAACP as well as the National Association of University Women.
Idár bravely fought injustice as a Mexican American journalist, activist, and suffragist in Texas. After organizing the First Mexican Congress with her family, she worked for her father’s newspaper, La Crónica, where she wrote an article supporting women’s suffrage, encouraging women to vote. She founded and led the League of Mexican Women, which began by educating Mexican American students and became a large feminist organization. She served as a nurse in the Mexican Revolution, opposed the U.S. entry into WW I as a writer for El Progreso – which the military tried to shut down – and she later took over her father’s newspaper. Idar was active in the Texas Democratic Party, advocating for women’s issues, particularly suffrage.
Sophia Alice Callahan
Born in Sulphur Springs, Tex., Callahan (Muscogee Creek Nation) is thought to have written the first novel by a Native American woman. Shocked by the massacre at Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge Reservation events, she began writing. “Wynema, a Child of the Forest” which explored important themes of social justice and reform for Native Americans, including voting rights. One of the male characters describes the cause of suffrage as “unwomanly” and “out of a woman’s sphere.” The main character, Genevieve, points out that his way of thinking is “absurd” and going out of style, and that “sensible men are beginning to open their eyes and see things in a different light from what their ancestors taught them.” Tragically, she died of illness at age 26
Born in Tokyo, Kimura was a Japanese suffragist, actress, dancer, theater manager, and magazine editor before World War II. Her work, both literary and theatrical, shaped the women’s rights and suffrage movements in Japan. With partners, she created The New True Woman Association, published a magazine and conducted lectures — both suppressed by the Japanese government. She continued to lecture, was arrested, defended herself at trial and with wide publicity drew broad support. Kimura came to New York City in 1917 to participate in the suffrage march of twenty-thousand campaigners on Fifth Avenue. While in the U.S., she studied English and the strategies of American suffragists and raised funds for continuing Japanese suffrage efforts.
Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson
Known as a hard-nosed administrator and legendary activist, Smith-Robinson worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from its earliest days in 1960 until her untimely death in October 1967. She participated in the lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, community-organizing and voter registration drives. She was badly beaten on a Freedom Ride, arrested and spent 45 days in prison. Smith-Robinson pushed back on the sexism she found in the civil rights movement, eventually succeeding James Forman as SNCC’s executive secretary and was the only woman ever to serve in this capacity. She was in charge of the summer voter registration project in Mississippi and was responsible for the Sojourner Truth motor fleet, which provided civil rights workers transportation.
Adella Hunt Logan
Hunt-Logan, a Georgia native, attended Atlanta University and was a schoolteacher before joining Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute, where she also served as treasurer. She married fellow teacher Warren Logan, and gave birth to nine children, only six survived to childhood. She led discussions and amassed a large library of resources about suffrage for the Tuskegee Women’s Club. She attended the 1908 Atlanta conference of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, even though African Americans were excluded. Georgia had recently passed a new constitution to disenfranchise Blacks. She also wrote about women’s rights in Crisis, a journal produced by W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP. Her life ended with a tragic suicide, following troubles in her marriage and setbacks in the suffrage movement.
Maggie Lena Walker
Born in 1864, Maggie Lena Walker was a successful businesswoman and the first African American woman to charter a bank and serve as its president. Walker organized pre-registration meetings in in 1920 in Richmond, Virginia after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Those meetings led to a huge voter registration drive for African American women and resulted in the highest rate of African American women registered to vote in Richmond that year. In 1921, Maggie became the first and only African American woman to run on a gubernatorial ticket. She was also an early model for persons with disabilities after a fall appearing in a wheelchair in news photos. Walker is honored by a statue in Richmond and her former home is the Maggie L. Walker Historic Site, with a visitor center, is operated by the National Park Service.
Augusta T. Chissell (1880-1973)
Augusta was an important leader in the women’s suffrage movement in Baltimore City. She had a long history of involvement in empowering women’s groups in the city which helped her in her leadership throughout the suffrage movement. After the 19th Amendment was passed, she authored a news column, “A Primer for Women Voters,” which offered guidance for African American women who wanted to vote. She also organized many weekly training sessions for women voters at the CYWCA. She served as the Chair of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League and the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. She left behind a legacy of decades of activism for all women.
Aurora Lucero-White (1894-1963)
Aurora was born in New Mexico in 1894 into a wealthy, political family. Her father was the first Secretary of State in New Mexico in 1912. She remained involved in family politics and moved to Washington, D.C. with her father where she was named a delegate to the Ladies Delegation Aides. She helped her cousin lobby to secure the state voting franchise for American women in the 1910s. She eventually moved back to New Mexico with her husband and daughter and began a career in education, earned a PhD, and became a distinguished writer, creating several fiction and educational works.
Virginia Howard Billedeaux (1870-1950)
Virginia was born on a reservation near Helena, Montana and was a member of the Amskapi Pikuni tribe. At age ten, she worked as a live-in servant in a middle-class home as a way for her parents to ensure she had adequate food and shelter. Once she married, she moved to the Blackfeet Reservation where she and her husband raised cattle and horses. When they found it hard to make ends meet, she insisted that the Blackfeet people needed political capital. She encouraged her people to vote on legislation that affected them. She also played a role in Native American suffrage in Montana, which came ten years after women’s suffrage in the state.
Terry Ao Minnis
Terry is the senior director of the census and voting programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice. She has published several articles on voting rights and been counsel on numerous amicus briefs filed before the Supreme Court. She was one of the key leaders in campaigns on reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and Census 2010. She holds a law degree from American University’s Washington College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in economics form the University of Chicago.
Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958)
Daughter of a diplomat and Civil Rights activist, Angelina was a well-known feminist in D.C. She was an African American journalist, playwright, poet, lesbian, suffragist, teacher, and author. She received her education at Wellesley, and expressed a strong, radical intersectional feminism, especially for her time. Her written works and plays exposed her ideas about the double standards that women in society faced and the painful and violent experiences of Black women. She believed women deserved justice and believed the only way to achieve justice was for women to get the ballot. She used her elite status in D.C. as a means to help achieve women’s suffrage. https://suffragistmemorial.org/african-american-women-leaders-in-the-suffrage-movement/
Alice Gertrude Baldwin (1859-1943)
A Baltimore native, Alice was an educator and activist in Wilmington, DE. She landed at The Howard School, where she was key in offering adequate education to children of the black community. She and a group of like-minded African American women formed the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Club. She lobbied the governor to convene a special session to consider ratification of the 19th Amendment, and while not ratified immediately, her speech “The Colored Teacher’s Tale” was considered remarkable. She was a champion of racial equality as well, being involved in the local NAACP chapter and improving the conditions for Black Americans in the pre-Civil Rights era.
Vera Pigee (1924 – 2007)
Vera Pigee owned a beauty salon in the heart of the black business district in Clarksdale, MS. She organized an NAACP chapter with Civil Rights leader Aaron Henry, was a branch secretary, adviser to an NAACP state Youth Council, and supervisor to Citizenship Schools which offered classes on literacy and voter registration. Pigee held classes in the backroom of her salon. She was fierce advocate for integration, playing a major role in desegregating the Clarksdale Bus Terminal in 1961. She later earned a doctorate in journalism and chronicled her work in her first book, Struggle of Struggles: Part 1.