Episode — №
August 26, 2020
This episode of Ballot and Beyond, contributed by the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, was written by Beverly Carter, Archivist of the DuBois Circle, and read by Reverend Canon Sandye A. Wilson, President of the DuBois Circle.
In 1906, a distinguished group of women in Baltimore was handpicked to organize an auxiliary group to work with and support the activities of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and the members of the local branch of the Niagara Movement, in their fight to address the social, political and economic injustices faced by African Americans. The DuBois Circle continues to address issues relating to the fulfillment of America’s promise of equity, justice, and freedom.
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In 1906, a distinguished group of women in Baltimore was handpicked to organize an auxiliary group to work with and support the activities of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and the members of the local branch of the Niagara Movement, in their fight to address the social, political and economic injustices faced by African Americans.
In January 1906, the chosen women — Margaret Hawkins, Eva Jenifer, Minnie Gaines, Lelia Waller and Caroline Cook — established the DuBois Circle. The DuBois Circle is one of Maryland’s oldest established African American women’s organizations.
The year 2020 marks the 114th anniversary of the DuBois Circle, which has met continuously since 1906. The DuBois Circle continues to address issues relating to the fulfillment of America’s promise of equity, justice, and freedom.
In the beginning, the organization focused on the pursuit of literary studies and the arts. Members met monthly in their homes, mostly located on Druid Hill Avenue and the surrounding streets in West Baltimore. Many members were not employed. Those who worked outside of their homes were teachers, social workers, businesswomen and activists. In addition to their club activities, they worked tirelessly with their husbands, who were noted pastors, bishops, educators, attorneys, doctors, and businessmen, in the fight for racial equality and social justice.
Through their participation in activities to seek equal access and fairness for the African American community, it became apparent that the focus of the DuBois Circle must embrace racial equality and that they must become more proactive.
Throughout the first two decades of the 20th Century, members advocated collectively and personally for better schools, health and housing conditions, equal educational opportunities and voting rights for Baltimore’s African American community.
Despite their ongoing struggle for existence during an economically challenged and socially antagonistic environment, they were not deterred. Dubois Circle members were cognizant that due to racism, the path to women’s suffrage for African American women would include hurdles not faced by other suffragists. An additional hurdle was added when they decided to fight for uplifting their communities overall, rather than focus their efforts solely on the rights of women. They affiliated and worked collaboratively with women’s clubs, both local and national, to form a united agenda and strategy.
The DuBois Circle members first addressed the issue of women’s right to vote at a meeting on November 25, 1911 at which “it was the consensus that ladies should have the rights to vote”. Meeting minutes reflect that many monthly meetings, from that meeting to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, were devoted to the fight for women’s suffrage.
As an organization, the DuBois Circle endorsed and was active in the fight for women’s suffrage. Dubois Circle records identify more than ten members who were actively involved in the suffrage movement on many levels. Most notably, member Estelle Young founded the Colored Women’s Suffrage Club in 1915, which held weekly meetings at the Colored YWCA educating women on the mechanics and importance of voting. Young’s DuBois Circle members served as the officers and on the executive board for the Suffrage Club throughout its existence. DuBois Circle members gave speeches, led discussions about noted suffragists and the work that women had done in securing equal rights with men, sponsored Suffrage Day at local churches, and held fundraising events to support their activities.
After passage of the 19th Amendment, African American women were frequently denied their newly won rights due to racism. The battle for the right to vote did not end for them with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In many states, especially in the South, African American women were unable to freely exercise their right to vote for decades to come. In order to fight state and Jim Crow laws that denied African Americans access to the polls, the DuBois Circle continued to educate the African American community on their rights through the establishment of and participation in numerous political and voting clubs throughout Baltimore.
In this year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, the DuBois Circle celebrates and honors its members, along with all women, in their role in the struggle.