Dr. DuBois v. Dr. Shaw


Dr. DuBois v. Dr. Shaw


Supporting women’s suffrage wasn’t an obvious political choice for African-American men in the 1910s. To convince readers of The Crisis to support the cause, W.E.B.DuBois had to first confront the racism of mainstream suffragists. Thread.

The mainstream movement - NAWSA, led by Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw - was composed of Southern white women who used white supremacy to advocate women’s enfranchisement, and Northern white women who insisted that women’s suffrage and Jim Crow had nothing to do with each other.

And that was just the present day. The shadows of the past loomed large for African-Americans: suffragists’ rejection of the 15th Amendment because it didn’t include women, and the racism that ElizCadyStanton & Susan B Anthony spewed at the time were both well-known stories.

In the Journal of Black Studies in 2000 Garth Pauley described DuBois’ rhetorical strategy for persuading African-American men to give suffrage a chance. First, he attacked the racism of white suffragists while expressing support for their cause.

That opened the door for him to then make both principled and pragmatic arguments for the merits of women’s suffrage. But the first step was the most necessary. DuBois used humor and gentle sarcasm to call out the white women on their racism.

Anna Howard Shaw had said that “all Negroes are opposed to woman suffrage,” which DuBois called a “barefaced falsehood.” But instead of dismissing the cause itself, he challenged the inadequacy of suffragists’ response. “They do not ask such silly questions of white folks:

"They go and see why they do not join. They teach, agitate, and proselyte; while among Negro Americans they have scarcely a single worker and are afraid to encourage such workers.” The magazine printed Dr. Shaw’s pathetic reply, written as if she intended to prove his point:

“There is not in the National Association any discrimination against colored people. If they do not belong to us it is merely because they have not organized and have not made application for membership.”

DuBois added an editorial wink: “The woman suffragists are wincing a bit under the plain speaking of Crisis.” But he didn’t demean the rightness of the cause. #Suffrage100 #CenturyofStruggle #BlackSuffragists


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “Dr. DuBois v. Dr. Shaw,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 14, 2024, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/448.

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