One hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was signed into law and officially granted twenty million American women the right to vote.

This mass expansion in voting rights was the result of generations of intense activism known as the women’s suffrage movement that has had a lasting legacy on equality in America.

In recognition of the struggles and achievements of a once disenfranchised majority, PreserveCast is honored to share remarkable stories of suffragists within each episode this year.

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This week on Ballot and Beyond, we’ll learn about Lucy Diggs Slowe, a skilled athlete that helped break the color barrier in women’s tennis, read by Shauntee Daniels, Executive Director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area.

Lucy Diggs Slowe

Lucy Diggs Slowe was the most influential advocate of change for African American women in education in the first half of the 20th century and the first African American woman to win any national sports championship.

Slowe graduated from the Baltimore Colored School and the colored high school. She graduated from Howard University and obtained a master’s degree from Columbia University at a time when one-third of 1% of African Americans and only 5% of white Americans attended any college. At Howard University, she was one of the 16 original founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first sorority for African American women in the country and dedicated to service and leadership. She taught English at Frederick Douglass High School before moving to the District of Columbia, where she organized the first junior high school for black students.

In 1922, Howard University appointed her as the university’s first dean of women, where she created a women’s campus, arguing that separation of the genders would foster women’s education. She helped to create the National Council of Negro women and two organizations that advocated for African American college women: the National Association of College Women and the National Association of Women’s Deans and Advisors of Colored Schools.

She held that women’s education should be of the highest quality equal to that of men clashing with the university’s male leadership. She went on to spearhead change across the country and was the first African American invited to address the predominantly white National Association of Women Deans in 1931. Slowe considered the talents and capabilities of African American women as so great and potential that they should help lead the rest of the world.

And the sports? In 1917, African Americans were barred from competing in the US Lawn Tennis Association. So black tennis clubs created their own, the American Tennis Association. Slowe was an accomplished player. And when she won the inaugural championship match at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, she was the first African American woman to win a national championship in any sport, paving the way for Althea Gibson, who later broke the International Tennis color line.

Lucy Diggs Slowe died in 1937. She was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.