Volume 9, No. 2 – February 2022
In this issue
• A salute to Black History Month

• Ada S. McKinley, educator and activist

• Book Review—Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All 

February Celebrates Black History Month 
According to the History Channel, February is Black History Month and celebrates the achievements by African Americans and is a time for recognizing their central role in the U.S. In 1915, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” a creation of renowned historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. 

Ever since 1976, every American president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history month. 

For more information see: 

Introducing Ada S. McKinley:
An Unsung Hero and Social Reformer

by Christi Babayeju
As a young African American born shortly following the abolishment of American slavery, Ada Sophia McKinley engaged in benevolent community work that has gone greatly unnoticed. In the middle of the Reconstruction Era, Ada was born in the southern city of Galveston, Texas, on June 26, 1868. Ada stayed in Texas for the majority of her young adult life. While still a child, she moved to Corpus Christi with her family. Later she graduated from Tillotson Missionary in San Antonio, where she temporarily entered the workforce as a school teacher in Austin, Texas, before marrying her husband, William McKinley, in 1887. Following the tragic Diphtheria epidemic that riddled the communities of many Texas cities and the sad loss of her two children, Ada and her husband moved to Chicago in the 1890s. At this time, Ada's social service first began as she became embedded in Chicago's community and started working to better the lives of those around her. 

During the Progressive Era Ada became a member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, participated in the League of Women Voters as an organizer, and was appointed president of the Citizens Community Center. Additionally, Ada was a volunteer for the "War Camp Community Services" directed by the Chicago Urban League. Here Ada worked as a hostess to African American soldiers. Notably, after the Chicago race riots that took place in 1919, Ada marched with Jane Addams, and white settlement house workers to show that solidarity in social causes was plausible regardless of race. It was this year in 1919 that Ada founded a settlement house to help situate migrating families from the south and Black veterans from World War I. 

Sadly, on August 25, 1952, Ada died at the age of 83. Fortunately, Ada was able to lay the cornerstone at the organization's first headquarters on 34th Street in Bronzeville just hours before she passed away. As an important figure in Chicago's history,  her monument is forever at rest next to the first African American Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. 

Though Ada is no longer here in person, her valiant efforts still live on in the city of Chicago. The South Side Settlement House was later renamed the Ada S. McKinley Community Services in her honor. Today this organization has expanded to include many facets: mentoring and college placement, foster care, housing opportunities, youth and family counseling, employment training, and head start programs. The agency annually serves over 7,000 people through 70 plus different programs in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Chicago. Standing for more than a hundred years, this agency still works in accordance with its initial goals to "empower, educate, and employ people to change lives and strengthen communities" as stated on its website. 

WWHP enthusiastically congratulates Christi Babayeju on her acceptance to Stanford University. 
“Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality For All” 
by Martha S. Jones (Basic Books, New York, 2020) 
A WWHP Book Review
by Sue Straus
In her new book, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and President of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, Martha S. Jones dives into her family history and the history of the United States through the eyes of Black women.

Starting with her great, great, great grandmother, Nancy Belle Graves, born enslaved in 1808 in Danville, Kentucky, to Susan Davis, Nancy’s oldest daughter, (and the great, great grandmother of Professor Jones), born in 1846 also enslaved, yet had the revolutionary idea that she wanted to vote, Jones paints a picture of women with vision beyond their early station in life.

The ebb and flow of progress and backlash is shown: how the 15th Amendment won the vote for Black men, only to face local laws such as the poll taxes, intimidation, and violence to curtail this right of citizenship. This in turn saw women like Susan Davis form Black women’s clubs.

Then, the book recounts how the passage of the 19th Amendment victory for women’s voting rights opened another door. Susan’s daughter, Fannie, was given an education, as was her husband, and in 1888 she taught first in Covington, Kentucky, then in St. Louis. Fannie spearheaded the construction of the first African American YWCA. She represented her state at the 1936 annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1926 Fannie’s daughter, Susie followed her husband to Greensboro, North Carolina where her father-in-law, father-in-law, Dallas Jones went into politics and rose to become a leader in the local Republican Party during the 1880’s. Then came 1890 and a group of unidentified men urged the election officials to challenge the entire list of Colored (as they were called then) voters on Election Day, not before, ending his political career.

The men and women profiled in the book give us hope for future progress, as well as for the struggle facing backlash against equality. I am reminded of the lessons learned in the labor movement, such as, “each generation has to win it for themselves,” and “solidarity forever” ring true here as well.

This summary leads us to the stories of many from the time the United States broke from England, and the 1773 signing of the Treaty of Paris. In Massachusetts we are informed of the enslaved population challenging their bondage in court cases and winning, leading to laws in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York adopting gradual abolition of slavery.
However, in 1816 The American Colonization Society was formed and sent former slaves
to colonies such as Liberia. 1826 saw New York and other states cut out Black men’s access to the polls; states joining the union such as Ohio and Missouri wrote into their constitutions “white men” as a prerequisite to vote.  

Voting was not the only platform where people sought rights of leadership. Women found themselves with callings to preach, to teach, to write, and faced not only pushback from white supremacistsbut also opposition from Black men who saw women as helpmates not equals. The personal ambitions, conflicts, and distrust among and between other Black women and white women also make up this journey for equality for all.

WWHP recommends Martha S. Jones’ book to anyone who wants a greater understanding of the history of the ways Black women fought for equality.

Within the book are photos and other images from Professor Jones’s personal archives of her relatives to the last picture, which is a photo of Stacey Abrams’ 2018 election watch party.
Working Women's History Project

Please contact us through Amy Laiken