Ulterior Motives to Segregated Efforts

Segregated suffrage groups were not always unplanned consequences of prejudice; sometimes they were intentionally organized (and often equally racist).

White Hypocrisy as a Political Strategy

For example, in 1910 a wealthy white woman named Alva Belmont approached the Negro Women’s Business League in New York with an offer to fund a Black branch of her suffrage association, the Political Equality Association.

After a conversation with the League’s president, Mrs. I. L. Moorman, and a subsequent meeting, the branch was formed with headquarters in Harlem that were funded by Belmont.

What was unknown to those women, however, was that Belmont secretly donated $10,000 to Southern Woman Suffrage Council, a Southern group that opposed a federal women’s suffrage amendment because it would enfranchise Black women.

Her actions point to political motivations for supporting Black women suffragists in New York while also supporting racist groups elsewhere: white suffragists needed the support of Black voting men to pass a bill to strike the word “male” from the New York State Constitution.

Autonomy at the Expense of Power

And so, as Historian Rosalyn Terborg-Penn notes, “there were pros and cons to developing segregated organizations for Black women versus integrating them into chapters with white women. Separate chapters for Black women allowed for their continued autonomy, [but] segregated ones, as in the New York case, promoted white hegemony dominance; supremacy and patronizing to talk to someone in a way that shows that you believe you are more intelligent or better than other people relationships, wherein white women perceived Black women as lesser representatives of their gender, in constant need of aid.”