Typewriter Graphic Icon
Lifting as we climb motto original banner
Motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, which has been adopted by many African American female groups.

Pittsburgh’s African American women played a significant role in bringing about women’s suffrage. Although their contribution is often understated, their impact on the suffrage movement cannot be ignored. Despite facing numerous obstacles, including opposition from prominent anti-suffrage groups throughout the 1910s. Black suffrage organizations like the Lucy Stone and Anna Shaw Suffrage Leagues were successful in their efforts to inform and organize large groups of Pittsburgh women in support of the movement.

Miss Emma Writt(1), Miss Mary Writt(2).
Miss Emma Writt, Miss Mary Writt

Leading up to the 20th Century, African American women in the Hill District began forming social organizations where they gathered to discuss literature, current events, and other topics. The Aurora Reading Club, a group that first met in 1894 and is still active today, is an example of this type of group. It was in spaces like Aurora and the Narcissus Literary and Musical Club where black women began to openly identify with the burgeoning suffrage movement.

The Writt sisters Pauline, Emma (1) and Mary (2) were recognized as leaders, and their efforts on behalf of gaining the right to vote caught the community’s attention.

Writ family home.
Residence of Mr. John T. Writt, Pittsburgh, PA

As word spread, women from throughout Pittsburgh began meeting regularly about suffrage in the Writt family home.

Daisy Elizabeth Adams Photo
Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, born in 1883.

In 1911 Black suffragists founded a chapters of the Lucy Stone League, and the Anna Shaw League, both organizations acted in support of women’s suffrage. It was not uncommon for women to be members of both leagues, and this level of communication and synergy enhanced the effectiveness of the movement in Pittsburgh

Women from both groups continued to meet together and separately in the 1910s, with the activity of the Lucy Stone League being greatly enhanced under the leadership of Daisy Lampkin. Born Daisy Elizabeth Adams in 1883, she joined the League in 1912 and immediately began having an impact on both the fledgling organization and on Pittsburgh as a whole. By 1915, Daisy was the President of the Lucy Stone League, overseeing the group’s activity during the hectic years leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Daisy Lampkin went on to gain national recognition as an NAACP leader.

2018 - Phoenix Sculpture Conservation
The Frogs Annual Dinner, January 8, 1913, at the Loendi Club.

Because women couldn’t vote in this era, they had to ensure that their message appealed to voting men, who could in turn elect pro-suffrage politicians who had the power to change the law. They needed the political support of Black men. The women of the Lucy Stone and Anna Shaw leagues were better positioned than their white counterparts to use their influence and savvy to reach Pittsburgh’s black male audience. The leagues organized meetings in churches and other public spaces and invited men in the community to attend. They also arranged for guest speakers to champion the importance of suffrage for the black community as a whole.

On occasion, the Loendi Club, an exclusive men’s establishment in the Hill District, would invite pro women’s suffrage speakers.

The original Pittsburgh Courier post.
Pittsburgh Courier, March 9, 1912.

It is likely that members of the Lucy Stone and Anna Shaw leagues influenced the Loendi Club leaders’ speaker invitations

The women had to develop innovative methods to overcome their circumstances; because the cost to send each league member to national conferences was too great, the leaders figured out a way to ensure that the conferences’ message and information was amplified.

Photo of the Urban League
Grace Jones seated, second from left.

Helped by women like Grace Lowndes, who served as the chair of the league’s public meeting committee, and Emma Writt, who frequently opened her home for league meetings, Daisy Lampkin was able to solve this problem by having “echo meetings.”

Grace Lowndes proved so adept at engaging and organizing that she rose to significance within the Urban League.

Pittsburgh Courier, December 20, 1912 Post
Pittsburgh Courier, December 20, 1912

Echo meetings relied on a league member to pay her own way to a national conference, and take detailed notes of the proceedings. Upon her return to Pittsburgh she would share the content with her league’s members. In this way echo meetings amplified the suffrage message in their respective communities, ensuring that the latest information was being spread across the city.

Photo of the parade line up scaled model.
The ‘National Association of Coloured Women’ contingent in the line-up, recreated by the Carnegie Science Center staff.

A surprising aspect of the suffrage movement in Pittsburgh is the indication that, at least in some instances, the relationship between black and white suffragists was strong enough to work towards the goal of suffrage. This certainly does not mean that racism didn’t exist, but it shows that, to some extent, the women worked together. For example, Pittsburgh’s 1914 suffrage parade is the only parade in the United States that we have found which had both black and white women on its planning committee; African American suffragists also marched in the center of the parade line up. (10) Suffragists in other US cities either denied black women participation in their public events or restricted their presence to the end of parades.

Pittsburgh Courier, February 17, 1912 post.
The ‘National Association of Coloured Women’ contingent in the line-up, recreated by the Carnegie Science Center staff.

We have little detailed information on many of the African American women engaged in suffrage efforts. At best their names are sometimes mentioned in newspaper articles. (11) While their determination and activism in the pursuit of enfranchisement left a powerful legacy in our City, there are some whose names we may never know.

In recognition of their fierce struggle for women’s suffrage, we remember the following Pittsburgh women and those who remain unnamed:
Blanche Bundy
Mrs. E.A. Duffield
Mrs. A. T. Hall
Mrs. J.W. Homes
Mrs. George Howard
Mrs. Lucille Porter