Mary Church Terrell's Speech before the NAWSA, February 18, 1898
African American women were often excluded from woman suffrage organizations and debates. After the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which, to the disappointment of woman suffragists, did not include women in the electorate, many white woman's rights activists broke with their African American counterparts, seeking suffrage for white women specifically. On the national scene the race issue was usually ignored if possible. In the South, by the twentieth century, race was huge point of contention in woman suffrage debates. Antisuffragists argued that opening the vote to women would increase the African American voting population, while suffragists argued that white women voters would help to uphold supremacy over African Americans.
As African American women found themselves excluded by white women's organizations, they founded their own. In 1892, Mary Church Terrell helped to found the National Association of Colored Women, an organization devoted to aiding and advocating for African American women. As the organization's first president, she was soon nationally known for her support of woman suffrage and her opposition to racial prejudice. In this speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Terrell outlined the achievements of African American women.
Terrell came from a wealthy family and was exceptionally well-educated for an African American woman in the nineteenth century. A longtime advocate for woman's rights and African American equality, she acquired an international reputation for public speaking out on topics such as enfranchisement, segregation, and economic disparities.
One Virginia member of the National Association of Colored Women was Maggie Lena Walker. An extremely influential woman in Richmond at the turn of the century, she was the first female African American bank president in the United States. As a reformer working for women, children, and African Americans, Walker undoubtedly thought that voting rights were important. Terrell and Walker worked together for the rights of women and African Americans. In 1899, when Terrell spoke in Richmond, Walker was chosen to introduce her. They were members of many of the same organizations, and in 1930 Terrell wrote a flattering article about Walker, which was published in the Richmond Planet.
1. Who was Mary Church Terrell?
2. Why did many white suffragists break with African American suffragists after the Fifteenth Amendment was passed?
1. Mary Church Terrell was very active on the national and even international level, while Maggie Walker concentrated most of her attention on working locally in Richmond. Which was a more effective tactic?
Brown, Elsa Barkley. "Womanist Consciousness: Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of Saint Luke." Signs 14, no. 3 (Spring 1989): 610–633.
Scott, Anne Firor. "Most Invisible of All: Black Women's Voluntary Associations." Journal of Southern History 56, no. 1 (February 1990): 3–22.
Gordon, Ann Dexter, and Bettye Collier-Thomas, eds. African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.