Racist Propaganda


Racist Propaganda


What's a Rochester suffragist from Susan B Anthony's day doing on a racist anti-suffrage leaflet in Virginia circa 1920? Read on . . .

Julie O’Connor @AlbanyMuskrat recently called my attention to Hester Jeffrey, a prominent African American suffragist and clubwoman in western NY. Originally from Boston, Hester moved to Rochester in 1891 and quickly expanded political life for women in her new city.

She held leadership positions in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union & the Needlework Guild of America. After Frederick Douglass died she was appointed to his Monument Committee. She sponsored scholarships for Black women at what’s now Rochester Inst. of Technology. @RITtigers

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn describes Hester as active across networks of Black club women and white suffragists. She was president of the New York Federation of Colored Women, and she represented the Federation at the New York Woman Suffrage Association convention in 1905.

In 1902, when New York women could vote in school board elections but nothing else, Hester Jeffrey founded the Susan B Anthony Club. The group organized Black women for charity work and suffrage. SusanB, of course, was the most famous woman in Rochester, and Hester knew her well.

When Susan B died in 1906, Hester Jeffrey gave a eulogy alongside local politicians and suffrage leaders Anna Howard Shaw & Carrie Chapman Catt.

Speaking on behalf of “the colored people of Rochester...the colored churches in this city, the National and State Federations of Colored Women, the federated clubs of the association” she expressed sorrow at the loss of a “friend for many years” and pledged that the members of the Club would “devote our time and energies to the work thou has left us to do.”

Hester Jeffrey led the creation of the first memorial to Susan B, a stained glass window at Rochester’s Memorial A.M.E. Zion church, installed in 1907. (When the church moved in the 1970s, I believe they took the window to their new home - along with one of Harriet Tubman.)

I’d been thinking about Hester for a few days when I opened Terborg-Penn’s book to look for more. I was startled to see the familiar face of Hester Jeffrey hijacked onto anti-suffragist propaganda. 👆The flyer is unhinged; it seems to argue that suffrage leads to race-mixing.

Its author was James Callaway, a columnist for the Macon (GA) Daily Telegraph. In 1918 he wrote a screed against the “Susan B Anthony Amendment” that accused Anthony, along with Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw of, well, having Black friends. Exhibit A was Hester Jeffrey.

Callaway also named Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis, and Booker T. Washington as friends of Susan B's - and by association, the living suffrage leaders.

Of course, this is weird and more than a little ironic.

Susan B and those men were long dead; Catt and Shaw were hardly integrationists. (They were lesbians, though - could that be what Callaway was insinuating by “immediate women friends”?)

But racism doesn’t make sense.

Terborg-Penn explains that the closer a federal suffrage bill came to passing, the harder white supremacists worked to sabotage it. Anti-suffragists took Callaway’s article & turned it into a leaflet they used against Carrie Catt when she campaigned for ratification in Virginia.

And that’s how Hester Jeffrey, suffragist and clubwoman of Rochester - and by 1920 a full voter in New York state - ended up on a flyer in Virginia. #BlackSuffragists #CenturyofStruggle #19thAmendment

Correction and more! Susan Goodier's essay says that after Hester was widowed in 1914, she moved back to Boston to live with her sister. She died in 1934. 


Daily Suffragist





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Daily Suffragist, “Racist Propaganda,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 27, 2022, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/441.

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