19th at 100: Commemorating the Suffrage Struggle and Its Legacies in Northeast Ohio

Hallie Quinn Brown and the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women

Many suffrage activists from northeast Ohio were relatively well-to-do, politically connected, and white--or so the surviving history indicates. White suffrage historians mostly left black women’s suffrage activities out of their historical works. But black women were involved in the suffrage struggle in Ohio. The Ohio Woman Suffrage Association was one of the few that welcomed black women to join their organization. Adella Hunt Logan noted in 1912: “In the States that are now conducting woman suffrage campaigns the colored woman is as interested and probably as active as conditions warrant. This is notably true of Ohio and Kansas.” Logan wrote that black women knew they needed to be involved in politics--they suffered from their lack of representation, as their children suffered from poor schools and an unequal justice system. Logan observed dryly, “Having no vote they need not be feared or heeded. The 'right of petition' is good; but it is much better when well voted in.” 

Hallie Quinn Brown is an exception to this historical amnesia about black suffragists’ work. She became a leader both locally and nationally in the fight for the vote. Brown’s parents moved to Ohio so that their children could attend Wilberforce College. After graduation, Brown taught in freedmen’s schools in the south, as well as Allen University and Tuskegee Institute, before returning to a professorship at her alma mater in 1893. This would be her base for the next decade as she got involved in political activities concerned with temperance, suffrage, and education. Excluded from national organizations like the NAWSA and the NWP, Brown led black women in forming the National Association for Colored Women (NACW) in 1896. While earlier black suffragists saw the vote as a way to help women become equal citizens, Brown was one of many black suffragists at the turn of the century who saw the vote as a way of advancing the the entire race. “I believe there are as great possibilities in women as there are in men,” she declared. “We are marching onward grandly. . . . We love to think of the great women of our race—the mothers who have struggled through poverty to educate their children. . . . we want a grand and noble womanhood, scattered all over the land. There is a great vanguard of scholars and teachers of our sex who are at the head of institutions of learning all over the country. We need teachers, lecturers of force and character to help to teach this great nation of women.” Here Brown’s passion for education to prepare women for full civic participation is on full display; she believed that black women, given resources and opportunities, could move all black people forward. Brown led the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1905-1912, as well as the NACW from 1920-1924. These black-led clubs became the center for black women’s suffrage struggles, even after the 19th amendment was passed. For black women, the struggle would go on for decades to finally be able to vote. 

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