Document 8: Letter from Florence Kelley to Mary White Ovington, New York, 22 December 1920, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Papers, Library of Congress (Microfilm, reel 2, #522).

Document 8:  Letter from Florence Kelley to Mary White Ovington, New York, 22 December 1920, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Papers, Library of Congress (Microfilm, reel 2, #522).

Introduction

       In this letter, Florence Kelley, General Secretary of the National Consumers' League, told Mary White Ovington about her effort to encourage Alice Paul to invite Mary Talbert to speak at the upcoming suffrage event in Washington. A longtime supporter of Black rights, Kelley had also urged that a Black woman speak at the conference, noting that Talbert would probably speak on the anti-lynching law. Many prominent Black women in this period were campaigning vigorously against lynching. Alice Paul stated that lynching was not solely a women's issue, but Kelley responded by arguing that neither was the National Consumers' League strictly a women's organization. The implication of her argument was that Mary Talbert had as much right to address the meeting as had Kelley herself.

        Kelley's account of this exchange suggests another reason why Paul was anxious about the prospect of Mary Talbert speaking before her group: her concern for the reactions of southern white women. According to this account Paul was supportive of an enforcement bill that would guarantee all women, including Black women, the right to vote, but was reluctant to associate her cause directly with the anti-lynching campaigns of Black women. Kelley, a founder of the NAACP had no such qualms and wrote to Mary White Ovington, hoping that Ovington might help her find a way to convince Paul to permit Talbert to speak before the group.

 

NATIONAL CONSUMERS' LEAGUE

To awaken Responsibility for conditions under which Goods are
Made and distributed and through Investigation, Education, and
Legislation to Mobilize Public Opinion in behalf of Enlightened
Standards for Workers and Honest Products for All

44 EAST 23 STREET, NEW YORK CITY
TELEPHONE GRAMERCY 5923

 

                    December 22nd, 1920

Miss Mary W. Ovington,
N.A.A.C.P.
70 Fifth Avenue,
New York City

Dear Miss Ovington,

       I saw Miss Paul in Washington on Monday evening and talked with her at length about the plans for the Federation Conference. [A] I asked her whether it would be possible to include Mrs. Talbert in the session at which I am to describe the program of the National Consumers' League. She asked what Congressional bills Mrs. Talbert and her woman's organization, the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, are pushing at the present session, or plan to introduce and push at the session beginning next march.

       I told her that, so far as I knew, the only Congressional measure in behalf of which Mrs. Talbert and the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs are now actively engaged was the anti-lynching law. Miss Paul made two comments with regard to this; first, that the anti-lynching law is not a woman's measure in the same sense that the Shepard-Towner bill for maternity and infancy is a woman's measure. I pointed out that the National Consumers' League, whose program I am to set forth, is not a woman's organization but has always had men as officers, members, contributors and spokesmen. Her reply was, "You have for years been a member of the Advisory Council of our organization, and will be speaking as such."

       Miss Paul advanced another difficulty, less obvious and more complicated and more serious, i.e., the Woman's Party if it continues in existence will have as its first job the passage of an enforcement bill prescribed in the second paragraph of the Woman Suffrage Amendment. [B] This would take care so far as Congressional law saw to it, of the suppression of Negro women voters anywhere. She considers this by far the most important item of their immediate program, in fact the only one on which all their efforts should be centered until the task is accomplished.

       She was of the opinion that the appearance of Mrs. Talbert on our program talking about lynching would inflame the Southerners, both in and out of her organization, as soon as it became known that this enforcement bill is to be pushed with the same vigor now that the Suffrage Amendment was pushed until its passage, and for the colored women voters it might be bad tactics to have Mrs. Talbert speak on this particular occasion.

       Miss Paul, as a Quaker woman, is of course entirely in sympathy with Mrs. Talbert and her work. As a tactician, however her judgement was against granting my request. I said that I would learn more exactly about the Congressional legislative program of the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs and let her know. Will you, therefore kindly give me any information that you may have on this point?

                    Yours sincerely,

                    Florence Kelley
                    General Secretary.

FK/DM

A. Kelley meant the National Woman's Party Conference.
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B. For the complete text of the Woman Suffrage Amendment, please go to http://www.libertystory.net/LSDOCWOMANSUFFRAGEAMENDMENT.htm
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