Colored Woman’s Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn

Most of the black women who belonged to suffrage clubs did not confine their activism to the suffrage movement. Sarah Smith Garnet, the first black woman principal in New York City, her sister, Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first black woman licensed to practice medicine in New York, helped to form the Equal Suffrage League in the late 1880s. Members engaged in any number of benevolent activities, including support for Harriet Tubman’s Old Age Home in Auburn and the Colored Orphan Asylum. Many of the members, like Charlotte Ray, the first black female lawyer in the United States, were firsts in their professions. When their membership outgrew private homes, they found other places to meet, such as at the YMCA. When Garnet stepped down, Verina Morton-Jones, the first black woman to become a medical doctor in Mississippi, took over as president of the suffrage league after establishing a practice in Brooklyn. She also helped found the Lincoln Settlement House, just one example of the broad range of black women’s social advocacy.

Portrait of Mrs. Sarah J.S. Garnet. Garnet was the first African-American female school principal in the New York City public school system, and founder of the Equal Suffrage League in Brooklyn. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Petition from the Equal Suffrage League, March 17, 1908. This petition to Congress asked for the enforcement of the 14th and 15th amendments. Although these amendments were passed in 1868 and 1870, African-Americans were effectively denied civil and voting rights until the 1960s. Courtesy of University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Letter from The National Association of Colored Women's Clubs to The Niagara Movement, August 25, 1907. This letter sent a greeting from the Equal Suffrage League of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs to the 1907 gathering of the Niagara Movement in Boston Massachusetts, and was signed by Sarah Garnet, Mary Eato, Lydia Smith, and Verina Morton-Jones. Courtesy of University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Dr. Verina Morton-Jones. Morton-Jones was the first black woman to be licensed to practice medicine in Mississippi. After moving to Brooklyn, she co-founded the Lincoln Settlement House, and was president of the Equal Suffrage League in Brooklyn. Courtesy of the South Central Regional Library Council.