Portland, Oregon Black Women’s Clubs React to Visit of National Leader

by Morgan Williams

     Oregon women achieved the vote in 1912, eight years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment placed women’s voting rights in the U.S. Constitution. When Oregon women achieved their right to vote they immediately started using that right. Women began organizations supporting movements and topics they felt were important. Many women even ran for different political positions with some achieving them. During this time in Oregon, there were many organizations for people of different racial groups and ethnicities. In Portland Oregon, there was a significant number of African American women’s clubs and organizations. Thanks to newspapers there is written evidence of many events during this time, including articles about significant Black women’s clubs and organizations in Portland. It is important to remember that during the time these articles were printed words such as “Negro” or “Colored” were commonly used. This article will include those words only when quoting a newspaper article print from the 1920s and will instead use the words “African American” or “Black” when not directly quoting from those papers.

     During this time period, there were many African American women standing up for their rights as both women and African Americans. One of the U.S.’s most influential Black women leaders of the time was Mary B. Talbert. The “Black Past” website informs readers that after Talbert graduated college from Oberlin in 1886, she taught at a high school and then college in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she rose in the ranks and eventually became the high school assistant principal. In 1891 Talbert married her husband, William H. Talbert and moved with him to Buffalo, New York where she would spend the next thirty years of her life as an avid activist for her gender and race.  Talbert was a founding member The National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP). She was president of the NACW from 1916 to 1920 and was vice president of the NAACP. During World War 1 she went to France as a part of the Y.W.C.A (Young Women’s Christian Association) as a Red Cross nurse and worked among Black soldiers.

     Another influential woman during that time was Beatrice [Mrs. E.D.] Cannady. According to the Quintard Taylor’s Oregon Encyclopedia entry, in 1912 Cannady moved to Portland and became an editor for The Advocate, Oregon’s largest newspaper for African Americans during the 1920s. She used her position to help protect the Civil Rights of all African Americans living in Oregon. In 1914 she became a founding member of Portland’s NAACP. During Cannady’s time as an activist, she participated in protests and spoke at many different events both in and outside of Oregon. Kimberley Mangun in “‘As Citizens of Portland We Must Protest,” explains that Cannady, and many other Civil Rights activists in Portland, fought against the release of the film The Birth of a Nation, arguing that it reinforced stereotypes and promoted racism because it did not portray an accurate history of the Ku Klux Klan during the period of Reconstruction. Cannady was not the only female Black activist in Portland during this time.

     Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, many Black women’s clubs and organizations begin forming in Portland. In Kimberly Jensen’s article, “Women’s “Positive Patriotic Duty” to Participate”, she discusses how many of these clubs helped with Liberty Loan campaigns for World War I and that many Black suffragists held key administrative roles in the campaigns. For many women helping with Liberty drives and wartime efforts was a way of proving their American citizenship. Many of these clubs and women also participated in marches and parades supporting the war and participated in public receptions for African American men fighting in the war. While African American women of this time were helping support the war efforts just as much as their white counterparts they were still facing much racism and denied “fully realized citizenship” making their fight far from over. Black women leaders organized voter registration drives and held talks and events with well known Black activist leaders to help educate Black votes about important political issues. A newspaper article published in the Sunday Oregonian in 1917 titled, “Colored Women Form State Federation of Clubs” provides a list of African American women’s clubs at the time, totaling 14 and provides names of some of the African American women and the different positions they held in these clubs and organizations. Clubs included, The Colored Women’s Council, the Roxanna Club, the Rosebud Study Club, the Clover Leaf Club, the Montavilla Industrial Club, the Ladies of the Twentieth Century Club, the Lucy Thurman W.C.T.U., Colored Women’s Republican Club, the Swastika Club, Salem Colored Women’s Club, Pendleton Art Club, Women’s Civic Club, Alpha Delphan Club and Hermonie Club.

“Negro Woman to Speak,” Sunday Oregonian, February 22, 1920, 9.

     On February 22, 1920, the Sunday Oregonian published an article titled “Negro Woman to Speak.” T­he article introduced readers to Talbert and invited them to hear her speak at Lincoln High School at 8:30 Monday evening, March 1. The meeting was free to the public. Talbert was to speak on the topic of “The Negro’s Right to World Citizenship.” The end of the article then gives readers a bit of background information on Talbert as well as letting readers know that Cannady had put together and was in charge of Talbert’s Portland trip and speech. Five days later on February 27, 1920, the Morning Oregonian published a second article regarding Talbert’s visit to Portland.        

“Club President Coming,” Morning Oregonian, February 27, 1920, 14.

     The article titled “Club President Coming” invited all Black clubwomen of Portland to come greet and listen to Talbert. The article informs readers that Talbert was the national president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs during this time and that she would be speaking the next Monday night. The article then tells readers which local women would be involved and in what capacity. Mrs. George W. McMath, a local White club woman, would introduce Talbert. Sylvia [Mrs. Alexander] Thompson, president of the Portland Federation of Women’s Clubs, would deliver the welcome address. At the time the city federation did not include Black women’s clubs. Etta Tibbs, president of the Black Progressive Women’s Club, would then speak on behalf of Black women of the city of Portland with Beatrice Cannady, presiding. Marie A. [Mrs. Charles H.] Maxwell, representing Black clubwomen of Salem, was scheduled to perform vocal solos for the event. Articles like this one provide a look into some of the different African American women’s clubs in Oregon at the time and the kind of activism work they were doing. The fact that these organizations were able to bring someone as well known as Talbert to Portland shows that they were big enough and had enough power to call attention to their work and help make a difference. However, the many organizations to which Black women belonged could sometimes engender some conflict as will be seen in the next newspaper article.

“Negro Women Make Statement,” Sunday Oregonian, February 29, 1920, 9.

      In the February 29, 1920 edition of the Sunday Oregonian, an article titled “Negro Women to Make Statement” was released. The article noted that several Black women’s clubs of Portland wished to publicly announce that they had no connection with the visit and lecture of Talbert as organized by Cannady. The article lets readers know where and when Talbert would be speaking, then lists all the clubs and organization, not in support of Talbert’s visit. Clubs included: “Oregon Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, Colored Women’s Republican Club, Ladies of the Twentieth Century Club, Progressive Art Club, Rose Bud Study Club, Clover Leaf Club, Live Wire Art Club, Smart Set Club, Roxana Sewing Club, Progressive Art Club”. Kimberly Mangun, in A Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936, has speculated that Cannady invited Talbert to Portland without consulting with these established clubs and organizations first. (22-23) These clubs may have felt that Cannady was going over their heads by organizing Talbert’s visit without including them in the process. Mangun has also speculated that there were “personal feeling and jealousy” involved in this as well. For these reasons Black clubwomen may have posted this article informing the public that they did not have a part in the preparations for Talbert’s visit.

“President of National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs to Speak,” Sunday Oregonian, February 29, 1920, 19.

     That same day the Sunday Oregonian also published an article titled “President of National Association of Colored Women’s Club to Speak.” This article provided readers with a picture of Talbert and invited people to the public lecture the next night. From there, the article gave a brief biography highlighting Talbert’s suffrage work. She was “one of the most active workers in all movements for the betterment of her race”. The article also provided readers with a bit of information regarding what Talbert hoped to gain from her travels. She was traveling in the interests of raising funds for the restoration of the Frederick Douglass home in Washington. According to the National Parks Service website Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, the Fredrick Douglass home had been purchased two years previously by the NACW and FDMHA. Between 1920 and 1921 the organizations were fundraising to restore the house. In 1921 restoration of the house began and by 1922 it had been completed. The article closes by letting readers know that before leaving Portland, Talbert would also speak at Read College and before several Women’s Clubs.

     Talbert’s visit to Portland, although slightly controversial among different clubs, helps to paint a picture of the large Civil Rights moment going on in Portland and Oregon at the time. These articles list many clubs that were around specifically to work for the advancement of African Americans and to fight off racism. Portland had a community of African Americans fighting for their rights and the rights of their future children. Their ability to bring Talbert to Portland to discuss the topic of  “The Negro’s Right to World Citizenship” is a big deal and points to their great ability to organize and spread their ideas. All of their hard work back then helped shape Oregon and the United States into the country that it is now. It’s thanks to them that all Oregon Women no matter their skin color are able to vote and be called equal.

Primary Sources:

“Club President Coming,” Morning Oregonian, February 27, 1920, 14.

“Colored Women Form State Federation of Clubs,” Sunday Oregonian, January 21, 1917, Sec 3, 12.

“Negro Women Make Statement,” Sunday Oregonian, February 29, 1920, 9.

“Negro Woman to Speak,” Sunday Oregonian, February 22, 1920, 9.

“President of National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs to Speak,” Sunday Oregonian, February 29, 1920, 19.

Secondary Sources:

Davis, LaQuantae. “Talbert, Mary B. (1866–1923).” Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. http://www.Blackpast.org/aah/talbert-mary-b-1866-1923.

“Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Landscape (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service. Accessed March 10, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/articles/600033.htm#4/34.45/-98.53.

Jensen, Kimberly. “Women’s “Positive Patriotic Duty” to Participate: The Practice of Female Citizenship in Oregon and the Expanding Surveillance State during the First World War and its Aftermath” Oregon Historical Quarterly 118, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 198-233.

Mangun, Kimberley Ann. A Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2010.

Mangun, Kimberley, “‘As Citizens of Portland We Must Protest’: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the African American Response to D.W. Griffith’s ‘Masterpiece.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 107, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 382-409.

Taylor, Quintard. “Beatrice Morrow Cannady (1889 – 1974).” Oregon Encyclopedia: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/cannady_beatrice_morrow/#.WqRx_0xFzIV.

About the Author:

Morgan Williams participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Winter 2018 Nineteenth Amendment Centennial in Historical Context: Oregon and Beyond course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. Morgan is an Interdisciplinary Studies major with focus areas in Education and Social Science.