Mary & Ida: newswomen


Mary & Ida: newswomen


Black women in Louisville, Kentucky. 1887.

IdaBWells was a rising newspaper star with a weekly column in the American Baptist. That August her publisher, Wm J Simmons, paid Ida’s way from Memphis for the annual convention of the National Colored Press Association.🧵

William Simmons👇made a point to hire Black women as reporters & typesetters at his paper. He was also the president of the Press Association, and he wanted Ida to be seen. Ida was only 25 years old - even younger than in the photo above left.

Ida was a star at the convention. She delivered a paper titled “How I Would Edit,” served on the conference resolutions committee, and was elected the first woman on the Association board. At the closing dinner she was asked to speak extemporaneously about women in journalism. Coverage of the convention described her as “brilliant and earnest” and “the most prominent correspondent.”

After the convention Ida spent three weeks in Louisville & Lexington, where she visited another young woman journalist who shared her interests.

Mary E Britton was seven years older than Ida, and an established journalist. They were introduced by Mary’s sister Julia Britton Hooks, a pianist and prominent community leader whom Ida knew in Memphis. Read more about Julia 👉

Like Ida, Mary Britton taught school--a respectable job and a stable income. She was already a committed supporter of women’s suffrage, and and a month before they met Mary gave a passionate speech about suffrage at the annual convention of the KY State Assoc of Colored Teachers. 

“There must be men of honor among you here this evening who are ashamed that women bear equally with men the support of their families; in many instances working harder, better, and of longer duration, and yet receive smaller compensation for their labor, only bc they are women.” 

Mary went on to make the case: disputing bad theology, decrying taxation without representation, and quoting famous male suffragists like Frederick Douglass & Henry Ward Beecher. Her speech was reprinted on the front page of the American Catholic Tribune, a national paper.

While Ida was not yet focused on suffrage as a political issue, she and Mary had a lot in common. Besides their professional interests, intellectualism, and ambition, they had both been orphaned in their teens and raised younger siblings.

When Kentucky moved to segregate transit in 1891, Mary Britton addressed the legislature with a speech so fierce that Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote a poem about it. Entitled “To Miss Mary Britton,” it goes:

Give us to lead our cause More noble souls like hers,
The memory of whose deed Each feeling bosom stirs;
Whose fearless voice and strong Rose to defend her race,
Roused Justice from her sleep, Drove Prejudice from place.

Mary was more successful in Dunbar’s heroic ode than in reality. The racist bill passed.

While Ida became an internationally famous activist and muckracking reporter, Mary went to medical school. She was the first Black woman doctor in Kentucky, and a leader in state and national professional associations.

Mary Britton was the Kentucky vice president for the National Medical Association. Here she is at the 1910 meeting of the Black Kentucky Medical Workers. She's easy to pick out.

Mary died in 1925, leaving her library to the Seventh Day Adventist church and her estate to her sister Julia Hooks.

#BlackSuffragists #Suffrage100 #BreonnaTaylorMatters


Daily Suffragist


Sept 26, 2020


Mary Britton painting-sm.jpg
Mary Britton 1910 Meeting of Black Kentucky Medical Workers.jpg
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Daily Suffragist, “Mary & Ida: newswomen,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 28, 2022,

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