Black Women's Clubs

Black women’s clubs grew to the hundreds in the first two decades of the 20th century.

In addition to national groups like the Baptist Women’s Convention and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), independent, affiliate and even secret associations blossomed. They developed their own suffrage strategies as well as working collectively with the national organizations.

 

Active Across the Suffrage Movement

In New York, Black women’s clubs sometimes organized alongside white women’s.

Mrs. R. Jerome Jeffrey, for example, was the president of the New York Federation of Colored Women while also maintaining involvement with Susan B. Anthony and the NAWSA (National American Woman Suffrage Association), which by this period was led by Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw.

The NAWSA worked especially hard in eastern and southern states where the push for women’s voting rights had been least successful.

Voter Mobilization and Campaigning

In states like Illinois - where where women gained the vote in 1914 -  Black clubwomen would mobilize voters and organize to elect candidates they supported.

In Chicago, the women of the Alpha Suffrage Club lead by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, organized and educated through their newsletter Alpha Suffrage Record.

Initially, the clubwomen encountered a mixed reaction; many women joined, but they found less enthusiasm among men. Some accused the clubwomen of trying to “take male’s places in politics”, and others suggested they return home to take care of their families.

The main goals at the time were, however, to gain the vote for Black women and to elect Black men into office.

"Advancing Step by Step"

In places where partial suffrage had passed, organizations like the Colorado State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs led all-inclusive suffrage movements to give all women the right to vote in every type of election.

Their federation song included the following verse (sung to the tune of the patriotic Civil War-era “Battle Hymn of the Republic”):

We’re Colorado’s; colored women struggling for a place;

We’re loyal to our country and we’re loyal to our race;

We’re holding high the banner, in the dust it must not trail,

As we go marching on.

Onward, upward to the summit,

Onward, upward to the summit,

Onward, upward to the summit,

We’re advancing step by step.