By Philip Staffelli-Suel
I desire no quarrel with the W.C.T.U., but my love for the truth is greater than my regard for an alleged friend who, through ignorance or design misrepresents in the most harmful way the cause of a long suffering race….
-Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Welcome back to an exciting adventure of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. When we last left off Mrs. Wells had retired from the newspaper in 1897. Today we are going to talk about her trailblazing work in getting women the right to vote, or suffrage. Let’s take a step back to begin our journey together.
Ida B. Wells linked the fight for women’s suffrage to her fight for racial equality. While a guest in Susan B Anthony’s home in 1896, she argued with Anthony that making African American wait was not worth the “expediency,” of women’s suffrage. She also called out the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union for racial inequality. She was never afraid to talk about injustice where she saw it. Nine years later the National American Woman Suffrage Association banned African Americans from the national meeting.
Tennessee State Museum collection, 94.91
In 1894 she campaigned for Lucy Flower, who became the first female to hold a statewide position. In 1896, the Republican Women’s State Central Committee asked her to canvass the state for William McKinley. She traveled campaigning with her six-month-old. She recalled her experience stating, “I honestly believe that I am the only woman in the United State who ever traveled throughout the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches…” That same year Ida B. Wells helped found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
Tennessee State Museum collection, 9.611.2
In 1913, after years of campaigning for the passage of the Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Bill, things began to look bright as women’s suffrage was legal in California, Nevada, and Arizona. Wells anticipated the passage of the bill, so she formed the Alpha Suffrage club with a white suffragist, Belle Squire. That same year during a woman’s march in DC, a black woman was told to march at the end of a parade as not to upset southern white women. Mrs. Wells told the delegation “If they did not take a stand now in this great democratic parade then the colored women are lost.” When the parade began Wells-Barnett was nowhere to be seen but appeared out of the crowd to march with the Illinois delegation, joined by white suffragist Belle Squire and Virginia Brooks. Mary Church Terrell, a leading black suffragist, also ignored the segregation order. Seven years later women gained the right to vote across the country.
Stay tuned Junior Curators for Part III of Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s life. Next time, we will explore her work fighting for African American equality in the later years of her life.
For the first blog in this series, click here.
Suffrage- The ability to vote in public elections.
Suffragist- 1) Someone who fights for the right to vote. 2) Someone who supports women's right to vote.
Racial Equality- is treating everyone the same no matter their race.
Expediency- as quickly and easily as possible.
Campaigning-a series of events to try and convince someone to elect a person to office.
Delegation- a body of delegates or representatives that speak for a larger group.
Canvass – to get votes from people.
What year did women gain the right to vote?
Why would Ida B. Wells not want to compromise her views about equality to achieve women’s right to vote?
Why does Ida B. Wells think that women’s right to vote will help African Americans?
Read this article for more information about Ida B. Well Barnett’s fight for woman’s suffrage.
Philip Staffelli-Suel is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.
Tennessee State Standards
5.44 Explain the development and efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau in helping former slaves begin a new life, including Fisk University.
5.45 Identify how the rise of vigilante justice (e.g., Ku Klux Klan), black codes, and Jim Crow laws impacted Tennessee and the nation.
8.72 Explain the restrictions placed on the rights and opportunities of freedmen, including: racial segregation, black codes, and the efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau to address the problems confronting newly freed slaves.
Giddings, Paula J. “A Noble Endeavor: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Suffrage.” National Park Service. Accessed December 10, 2022. https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/a-noble-endeavor-ida-b-wells-barnett-and-suffrage.htm.
“About NACWC.” National Association of Colored Women’s Club. Assessed December 12, 2022. https://www.nacwc.com/history.
“Standing Up for Her Principles: Ida B. Wells and the Suffrage Movement.” Wttw. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://interactive.wttw.com/chicago-stories/ida-b-wells/standing-up-for-her-principles-ida-b-wells-and-the-suffrage-movement.