Black Women Suffragists in the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States

In this essay we introduce the biographical sketches of black women suffragists.  We particularly focus on how we assembled the group, which will eventually include about 290 biographical sketches of black women suffragists, most of whom are relatively unknown to historians and students of history.    

Our compilation of biographical sketches on black women suffragists began in 2008 with a list of seventy suffragists who appeared in Rosalyn Terborg-Penn’s pathbreaking 1998 book, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920.  During the past decade we pursued further research, much in black newspapers newly available online, which allowed us to identify 220 additional black women suffragists.  For some we had only their names and where they lived; for others we had more information, such as their participation in church or community organizations. Excited about how this new group could expand our historical knowledge of black women in the suffrage movement, we decided to commission volunteers to research and write biographical sketches of them.  Our crowd-sourcing call for volunteers has been enormously successful.  Generous researchers and writers have created biographical sketches that shed new light on black women suffragists and their communities.  

This expansion of our reach has been made possible by the increased digitization of critical primary sources. Newspapers.com is a subscription web resource which includes in its collection several black newspapers, including good indexed runs of the New York AgeWashington BeeThe Colored American, and the Pittsburgh Courier. To find newspaper stories in the database that mention a particular black woman suffragist, a search for the individual's name to produces a results list that is bound to contain new information of value.

Still more can be gleaned from online catalogs and collection inventories of leading repositories, such as the Schomburg Center, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, the Sophia Smith Collection, and the Schlesinger Library. Many of these repositories have digitized significant numbers of documents and made them accessible on the Web.

We hope that the publication of this expanding collection of biographical sketches of black women suffragists will spark further interest in and knowledge of the contributions of black women to the achievement of voting rights and citizenship rights in the United States. At a time when voting rights are under attack and voter suppression is growing, we see that the expansion of voting rights in this country has been a constant struggle for more than two centuries.

We will add new activists and new sketches to the list as information reaches us. If you would like to recommend additional black women suffragists, please write to tdublin@binghamton.edu.