Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Jeannette Carter, 1886–1964

By James Keating
University of New South Wales

Suffragist, journalist, attorney, labor organizer.



Jeannette Carter and flag used by John Brown on his attack on Harpers Ferry, August 1938
Credit: National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Jeannette Carter was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1886 to Edmond Carter and Elizabeth Reeves Carter. She grew up in a distinguished family; her elder brother William Justin Carter, was an eminent lawyer and, alongside W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, while another brother, Cornelius Lennon Carter, was a doctor. Like William, Jeannette attended Howard University Law School, graduating in 1912. She remained in Washington, D.C. after college and began practicing law, quickly establishing a reputation as a capable pension and claim attorney. Within a few years of her graduation, Carter became the first black woman to be appointed a notary public in Washington. While maintaining her legal practice, she was also a frequent contributor to the black press, and in 1917 the New York Age appointed her Washington bureau manager.

In Washington, Carter built connections within the black women’s club movement, which had emerged as an important voice in the civil rights movement at the turn-of the century. In 1917, she formed the Woman Wage Earners Association (WWEA) with Mary Church Terrell and Julia F. Coleman. The association sought to organize black women, excluded from the predominantly white labor movement, in pursuit of improved wages and working conditions. The association’s history is largely unknown, but within a year of its foundation Carter was appointed director of the Colored Bureau of Industrial Housing and Transportation in the United States Department of Labor.

As well as advocating members’ interests in the workplace, the WWEA also pursued women’s suffrage as a strategy to improve wages and working conditions. Its efforts were augmented by Carter’s journalism, which encouraged black women to join the suffrage campaign. Before the 1920 presidential election, she reminded New York Age readers of their duty to “organize for their own protection and the conservation of their citizen rights” and for women in particular to use the ballot to remedy the “all of the wrongs heaped upon” them as a racially and sexually oppressed class.

After the passage of the nineteenth amendment, Carter became a prominent Republican activist. In 1920 she was the first black woman to be appointed assistant sergeant-at-arms at the Republican National Convention, and in 1921 joined the National Colored Women’s Legislative Bureau, a lobbying group established to represent the interests of black women in Washington. In 1923 she established the Women’s Republican National Political Study Club, and served as president and editor of its magazine, Political Recorder. She remained active in Republican politics into the 1940s, launching another newspaper for Republican women, Women’s Voice, in 1939 and co-founding the short-lived National Association for Republican Women in 1940.

Little is known of Carter’s later life. Though she often returned to Harrisburg to visit family, Carter remained in Washington and continued her career as an attorney until she died in 1964.

“Miss Jeannette Carter made Chief of Bureau,” New York Age, 19 October 1918, 2; “Personal,” Crisis, December 1918, 90; “Women Celebrate in Honor of Vote Right,” New York Age, 4 September 1920, 1; Jeannette Carter Papers, Collection 12-1, Moorland-Springarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.; Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).


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