Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of May Martel


By Melanie Gustafson, Associate Professor, University of Vermont

May Martel was a journalist who wrote the “Women’s Department” column for the New York Age in 1912 and 1913. Biographical information about her is unknown.

Martel’s first column for the New York Age appeared on July 11, 1912. This column, headed “Of Interest to Women,” provides an overview of a recent meeting of the Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs, originally organized by African American women in Brooklyn in 1908. The article identifies the president of the organization as “Mrs. Taloert,” which may indicate Martel’s limited knowledge of the organization, and perhaps clubwomen more generally, or it is simply an editor’s carelessness. In her next column, which appeared under the heading “Women’s Department,” on July 18, 1912, Martel continued to report on clubwomen’s activities, this time providing the correct name for the Empire State Federation president, Mary B. Talbert.

Martel’s support for woman suffrage is evident in three columns. In her November 7, 1912 column, she wrote that the “cause of woman suffrage will profit” from women’s work in the Progressive, Republican, and Democratic campaigns. She stated that “every colored woman of the country owes a debt of gratitude” to Jane Addams” because when white Progressives “tried to sidestep the Negro question she provoked an all night fight over it among the platform framers.” Martel identified Mrs. Lydia Smith, of Brooklyn, as the “only woman of color” working for the Progressives in New York but she also stated that “other well known women of color too numerous to mention, are all advocates of ‘Votes for Women.’” She also expressed her support for woman suffrage in her December 12, 1912 column, where she revealed that “a prominent white suffragist” told her that the “greatest enemies to the woman’s suffrage movement were colored men” and in her March 13, 1913 column, where she related her relief after learning that thirty-two African American women participated in the woman suffrage demonstration in Washington, D.C. “I was afraid the race wouldn’t be represented at all,” she wrote. Her fear was based on her attendance at the fall 2012 suffrage march down Fifth Avenue, where she “anxiously looked for women of my own race but didn’t see one in the line of the march. Colored women can’t afford to be indifferent to any move which means progress. Women are going to get the ballot in New York State, and it is only a question of time before they will have it in every state in the Union.”

It is unclear where May Martel was when New York women won suffrage in 1917 and where she was in 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. More research needs to be done on this journalist and woman suffrage supporter.


New York Age, July 11, 18, 25, 1912; August 1, 15, 1912; September 26, 1912; October 24, 1912; November 7, 14, 21, 28, 1912; December 5, 12, 19, 26, 1912; January 23, 30, 1913; February 13, 1913; March 13, 1913; April 10, 1913; April 17, 1913; May 1, 1913.


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