Document 10: Letter from Mary White Ovington to Alice Paul, [New York], 4 January 1921, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress (Microfilm, reel 2, #544).
Mary White Ovington tried to convince leaders of the National Woman's Party to reverse their initial decision and invite Mary Talbert to speak in Washington. Her first letter, addressed to Alice Paul, commented on the symbolism of unveiling a statue commemorating the achievement of woman suffrage without having a formal representative of African-American women present. She noted as well the fact that while Mary Talbert might not represent a feminist organization, she did represent African-American women, something no white woman could do given the nation's racial caste system. Her letter seems aimed a pricking Paul's conscience who was, after all, a Quaker, a denomination with a long history of antislavery sentiment and concern for African Americans--and getting her to see the NWP's plans in the light of seven decades of struggle for suffrage.
January 4, 1921
Miss Alice Paul, Chairman,
National Woman's Party,
14 Jackson Place,
My dear Miss Paul:
Not being a member of the National Woman's Party, I wrote to the members of the National Advisory Council whom I knew asking them if they would interest themselves in having a colored woman appear on the program of the Woman's Party Conference in Washington in February. Mrs. Brannan wrote me enthusiastically that the New York State Branch of the Woman's Party unanimously decided in favor of a colored speaker upon the program, but she telephoned me yesterday that you did not find this possible and asked me to address my communication directly to you.
The difficulty, as I understand it, seems to be that it has been necessary for the Woman's Party to restrict its program to representatives from organizations which have undertaken a more or less distinct feminist program and that Mrs. Talbert, whose name I suggested as today the most distinguished colored woman speaker in the country and as an ex-President of the National Association of Colored Women, would not be able to speak at your session because she does not represent a feminist organization.
May I point out, however, that Mrs. Talbert does represent the colored women of the United States and that no white woman can today represent the colored women of this country. Owing to our caste system, these women are little known by white women and carry on their organization largely distinct from the organizations of your and my race. This being the case, it is surely eminently proper that a meeting which has as one of its objects the honoring of the great feminists of the nineteenth century should have on its program a representative colored woman. Indeed, I think when your statue of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is unveiled and it is realized that no colored woman has been given any part in your great session, the omission will be keenly felt by thousands of people throughout the country.
Very sincerely yours,
[Mary White Ovington]