Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mary Virginia Cook Parrish, 1862-1945

By Calvin Sydnor, V and Spencer Wiegand
Undergraduates, Hampton University
Faculty Sponsor: Maureen Elgersman Lee

Mary Virginia Cook was born into slavery on August 8, 1862, in the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Liberated from enslavement when she was still a child, Cook benefited from the assistance of the Baptist church to overcome persistent race and gender barriers to education. In 1881 the American Baptist Woman’s Hope Society of Boston helped Cook enroll in State University (now Simmons University) and continued to pay her way through college. Cook graduated as valedictorian from the College Department in 1887.

Mary Cook was a renowned speaker and journalist who spoke out publicly against sexism and racism amongst blacks and whites. Under the pen name, Grace Ermine, Cook wrote articles in newspapers that stressed the civil rights violations of the day. “Nothing But Leaves,” her most popular article written in the National Baptist Magazine, expressed how fruit bearing is the highest achievement of God’s creation to highlight the importance of women in the church. Along with twenty other male members, she served as a member of the executive board of the National Baptist Educational Convention. In 1895, Cook wrote in the National Baptist Magazine about the significance of the National Baptist Convention (NBC) and black women’s role in contributing towards human rights versus American consumer materialism. “What Are the Colored People Doing,” was Cook’s report on the 1890 National Baptist Convention.

On January 26, 1898, Mary Virginia Cook married Reverend Charles Parrish in Cane Springs, Kentucky. Together, they had one son, Charles Parrish, Jr. In 1900 Mary Cook Parrish used the NBC to found the Women’s Convention (WC), an additional organization auxiliary to the NBC that focused on Bible studies, aid to the needy, youth education, and establishing financial institutions. In 1909, she established another organization, the National Training School for Women and Girls. Located in Washington, D.C., the school taught science, philosophy, and secretarial skills. By 1938 the institution, which comprised a high school and a junior college, was valued at $200,000.

As a leader in the NBC and WC, Mary Cook Parrish was as a pioneer for black Baptist feminists. She continued to be the spokesperson for promoting social change during a time when racism and sexism were prevalent in the United States. Until her death on October 14, 1945, Parrish used the Baptist church as a platform to break gender and race barriers. Mary Cook Parrish should be remembered for her resiliency and perseverance against black female stereotypes while using the Bible as a tool for liberation.


Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Harvard University Press, 1993); I. Garland Penn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors (Springfield, Mass.:Wiley, 1891); “Cook-Parrish, Mary Virginia,” in Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, University of Kentucky Libraries online at; Lawrence H. Williams, "'Righteous Discontent': Mary Virginia Cook Parrish and Black Baptist Women,” Baptist History and Heritage Society, 2007, Free Online Library, accessed at; “Cook Family in KY,”, 2016.

Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

Monroe Majors, Noted Negro Women
Women of Distinction


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