Maritcha Remond Lyons (1848-1929)



Maritcha Lyons
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biographical Sketch of Maritcha Rémond Lyons, 1848-1929

Lauren D. Brisbon, Ph.D.
Clark Atlanta University

Educator, social activist, suffragist.

Maritcha Rémond Lyons was born on May 23, 1848 in New York City to Albro Lyons, Sr., and Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons. In May 1840, Lyons's parents married and resided on Centre Street in Manhattan. Her parents, abolitionists, owned a boardinghouse and operated as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Moreover, her mother actively participated in anti-slavery meetings and conferences. After a brief period in school in Brooklyn, Maritcha withdrew from school due to a physical disability. Her education continued at home until 1861, when Lyons resumed her formal education at Manhattan's Colored School No. 3.

During the New York City Draft Riots in July 1863, the Lyons home came under attack. The family had to flee and a mob ransacked their home for an hour before police drove them away. Albro Lyons accounted the damage to the home and furnishings which amounted to $2,000. As a result, Lyons and her family relocated to Salem, Massachusetts where they stayed with old family friends, the Remonds family, which included two other women who later became suffrage advocates, Sarah and Caroline Remond.

In the fall of 1863 they returned to New York City and Maritcha resumed her schooling, graduating from Colored School No. 3 the following spring. In 1864, the Lyons family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. In Providence, her mother attempted to enroll her in the Girls' Department of Providence High; however, school officials denied her admission based on her race. A protest ensued, Lyons's mother wrote to the governor, and Maritcha herself, 16 at this date, spoke before the Rhode Island Legislature, which ended the racial bar on admission and granted her request to enter high school. After winning her case, Lyons was required to enroll in the first grade and complete a prerequisite examination before entering high school. During her senior year, she wrote compositions, specifically, on a variety of race topics. In 1869, she was the first black person who graduated from Providence High. In October 1869, Lyons began her teaching career in Brooklyn, New York. She continued to enhance her education through courses and independent study.

Lyons developed a lifelong interest in the anti-lynching crusade, stimulated by lectures in New York in 1892 by the noted activist and lecturer, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. As a women's rights activist, Lyons was a cofounder in 1892 of the Woman's Loyal Union of New York and Brooklyn, which was a forum to advocate for equality for black Americans. Lyons and Victoria Earle Matthews (another Black suffragist) organized a testimonial dinner and speech for Wells-Barnett that raised $500 for the anti-lynching activist. Newspaper accounts indicate continuing anti-lynching activism in 1913 and 1922.

In 1897, Matthews and Lyons founded the White Rose Association, a social settlement that provided assistance to southern, black women migrants in Manhattan. In 1898, she accepted the position as an assistant principal at Brooklyn's Public School No. 83 (separate "colored" schools had been abolished). In that position, Lyons supervised the work of beginning teachers, both white and Black.

In addition to her career pursuits, she was an active participant in the local political arena and in a variety of community service groups. In 1901, invited to speak by the Constitution League, Lyons spoke on the anti-black riots in New York. As an activist, she presented lectures on "Manhood Suffrage" in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and New York. In 1909 Lyons spoke at the Woman's Meeting of the Lincoln Centenary celebration and at the annual Lincoln dinner of the Women's Henry George League in Brooklyn. In August 1916 she addressed the national convention of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. In May 1917 she led a fundraising drive in Brooklyn that netted $350 for the restoration of the Frederick Douglass home in DC. She also chaired the Civilian Relief Committee of the Brooklyn Red Cross during World War I, coordinating relief for soldiers' families.

After almost five decades as an educator, Lyons retired in May 1918, as an assistant principal at P.S. 83 in Brooklyn. She had been a classroom teacher for 28 years and a department head/administrator for another 20 years.

In 1922, she found herself once more engaged in the anti-lynching campaign led by Mary B. Talbert of the NAACP. In 1928, she completed her memoir, "Memories of Yesterday." She once wrote: "Until Americans think of all citizens as human beings, until equality of opportunity, equality before the law, equal sanitary provision, equal protection of person and property are insisted upon; until our country puts into her own life that democracy whose splendid hope she has been speeding to the world, the so-called ‘Negro problem' will never cease to exist." (The Immediate Duty of Negro American Women. p. 68.)

Throughout her life, Lyons remained single and never had children. During her last years, she lived with her nephew, George Willis Burrill in Bayshore, New York. On January 28, 1929, Lyons died in New York. Henry ("Harry") Albro Williamson, Lyons's nephew, collected the family's papers, which are now housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.


Bolden, Tonya. Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005.

Brown, Hallie Quinn, Homespun Heroine and Other Women of Distinction [Xenia, OH: Aldine Pub. Co, 1926). Includes eight bio sketches written by Maritcha Lyons.

Hodges, Graham Russell. Root & Branch: African Americans in New York & East Jersey, 1613-1863. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Johnson, Val Marie, "'The Half Has Never Been Told': Maritcha Lyons' Community, Black Women Educators, and ‘the Color Line' in Progressive Era Brooklyn and New York," Journal of Urban History, 44:5 (2018), 835-61.

Lyons, Maritcha Rémond. "Memories of Yesterday: All of Which I Saw and Part of Which I Was," (1928) and "The Immediate Duty of Negro American Women" (n.d.) in Harry A. Williamson Papers. New York: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library, Sc Micro R-3984. Reel 1.f.

Obituary for Maritcha Lyons, New York Age, 2 Feb. 1929, p. 1.

Peterson, Carla L., Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).

Whitehead, K. Wise. "Maritcha R. Lyons." In African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. New York: Oxford University, Press, 2008.

Wilder, Craig Steven. In the Company of Black Men: The African Influence on African American Culture in New York City. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

New York Tribune, notice of Lincoln dinner, Women's Henry George League, 7 Feb. 109, p. 47.

Lincoln Centenary announcement, New York Age, 4 Feb. 1909, p. 6.

Wikipedia sketch, accessed online at

"Interest Increasing in Meeting of Nurses," New York Age, 10 Aug. 1916, p. 1.

"Frederick Douglass Home Centennial Meeting," Brooklyn Standard Union, 18 May, 1917, p. 9.

"Red Cross Doings," Brooklyn Times Union, 9 Feb. 1918, p. 10.

"48 Years P.S. Teacher, Miss Lyons Retires," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 July 1918, p. 7.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

Who's Who of the Colored Race

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"Elizabeth N. Smith," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 24-28

"Sarah Harris Fayerweather," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 29-35

"Harriet Tubman," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 66-72

"Sarah J. S. (Tompkins) Garnet," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 116-120

"Georgiana Frances Putnam," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 141-146

"Dr. Susan S. (Mckinney) Steward," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 166-170

"Henrietta Cordelia Ray," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 175-181

"Agnes Jones Adams," in Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House, 1926), pp. 206-210

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