Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alpha [Woman's] Suffrage Club of Chicago, Illinois.

The passage of the Illinois Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Bill in the summer of 1913 offered Negro women in Chicago the opportunity to merge their social welfare activities with electoral power.
This was primarily due to the creation of the first and one of the most important Negro female suffrage organizations in the state, the "Alpha Suffrage Club." The Alpha Suffrage Club is believed to be the first Negro women's suffrage association in the United States.

It began in Chicago, Illinois in 1913 under the initiative of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her white colleague, Belle Squire; the same year that Illinois gave women partial suffrage–that is, they could vote in local and national, but not state, elections. The club elected officers and held monthly meetings. 

The Club aimed to reinforce Negro involvement in the struggle for women's suffrage, due to Negro women being unable to be involved in the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA). 

The Alpha Suffrage Club was established to partially give a voice to women who could not represent themselves individually, and worked specifically towards giving a voice to Negro women, as well as to “politicize” Negro women into the government system. In 1916, the club had nearly 200 members, including well-known female suffrage activists Mary E. Jackson, Viola Hill, Vera Wesley Green, and Sadie L. Adams.

Within the next three years the group membership expanded into the thousands. The women were motivated by and sought to put an end to the countless lynchings of Negroes in America.

Amongst their community activities, they spread their support for, and within, the Negro population with their newsletter, "The Alpha Suffrage Record," first printed on March 18, 1914. 

As Wells and the Alpha Suffrage Club canvassed black neighborhoods to register women voters, they faced taunting from black men, who accused them of “trying to take the place of men and wear the trousers." However, Wells defied the fear that these men were trying to instill in her club members, urging them to continue registering voters.

Her courage and persistence paid off–in 1915, Oscar DePriest was elected as the first black alderman (like a city councilman) in Chicago, winning by a large margin.
Oscar DePriest
Black women played a decisive role in his election, with over a third of votes for DePriest coming from women. Were it not for the Alpha Suffrage Club and their bravery in continuing to register voters, DePriest likely would have lost. DePriest acknowledged the importance of their contribution, stating, “I am more than thankful for their work and as electors believe they have every necessary qualification that the men possess.” Wells’ actions were not only fearless, they were also highly effective. Her work made a real difference for the success of black politicians in Chicago.

The publishing of this newsletter is very significant, because this is the first time that Negroes had a public political voice.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

READ THE FIRST NEWSLETTER HERE ─► The Alpha Suffrage Record; Volume 1, Number 1, March 18, 1914 in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History® 

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