Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biographical Sketch of Mary (Maud) Molson Hughes, 1846-1881

By Taylor Davis, Tessa Mallett, Alison Osborn, Emily Rader, and Hannah Wagner
Undergraduates, University of Michigan Dearborn

Mary (Maud) Molson Hughes was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on September 24, 1846, to John and Louisa Clark Molson. The third of six children, Hughes expressed an avid interest in learning from a young age, especially an insatiable appetite for reading. Molson attended a school in Addison, New York until she was eighteen years old, and also received some formal music education.

After completing primary school, Molson attended Alfred University during the 1862-1863 school year. Progressive for its time, Alfred University had been founded on egalitarian principles, with strong beliefs in women’s intellectual equality and woman suffrage. The school also proved radical for promoting racial integration, accepting Black and Native American students as well as white. Molson proved an extremely bright student, and flourished under the tutelage of Professor Kenyon, a founder of Alfred and a local celebrity for his constant fundraising efforts to improve the university.

After leaving Alfred, Molson became a noted orator while still in her twenties. She lectured around western New York in the spring of 1869 with Charles Lenox Remond, a well-known Massachusetts abolitionist, in support of the Fifteenth Amendment. During that summer she spoke at many events, including the Colored Men’s Convention in Binghamton, NY. In her lectures, Hughes addressed controversial issues such as her ideas about black equality, her allegiance to the Republican Party and her aggravation at the Democratic Party’s persistent “cry of the white man’s government.” Hughes and those in attendance at the convention attributed some of the backlash against the black suffrage movement to the “white supremacist politicians,” who dominated the New York membership of the Democratic party.

Although Molson’s lectures primarily focused on garnering support for black male suffrage, she did find opportunities, including the 1869 meeting of the Equal Rights League, to make an appeal for what she referred to as “impartial suffrage,” by which she meant the rights of African Americans and women to vote. Her contributions to the woman suffrage movement of the 19th century won her a notation in the History of Woman Suffrage.

Molsons married Orra L.C. Hughes and had their only child, Lulu Missouri Hughes, in 1870. Orra was a highly respected lawyer, owner of the Painted Post Times, and an educational superintendent in Tennessee. The couple traveled across the United States, attending conventions and giving lectures on behalf of the causes to which they belonged. Both continued as activists in their own right; Hughes maintained her status as a seasoned orator, lecturing at public events and speaking at churches. As an attorney, Orra handled numerous cases involving female plaintiffs, despite laws that made it difficult for women to obtain justice through the judicial system. A civic-minded man, Orra was President of the Convention of Colored People of Steuben County in 1874, which had gathered, “to discuss the political interests and general welfare of the race.”

Little is known about the last decade of Hughes’s life, other than her early death at the age of 35 on August 26, 1881 due to “inflammatory rheumatism” and an accompanying bacterial infection known as “pyanemia.” According to her obituary in the Addison Advertiser, Hughes expended, “all her efforts to see first and foremost the necessity of...the equality of woman to occupy any field of labor in the literary or professional world.” The obituary emphasized that Hughes was much loved by her family and greatly admired by those fortunate enough to have heard her speeches.


“Convention of Colored People of Steuben County.” Painted Post Times. August 27, 1874.

Dudden, Faye E. Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. P. 185.

“Equal Rights League.” National Anti-Slavery Standard. September 25, 1869. Women and Social Movements in the United States 1600-2000. Accessed February 11, 2016.

“John Molson,” 1850 census. Williamsport, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Dwelling 12. Accessed February 13, 2016.

“John Molson,” 1860 census. Addison, Steuben County, New York. Dwelling 86, family 77. Accessed February 13, 2016.

Larkin, Ethan P. “History of Alfred University.” 1879. At,%20E.P.%20Larkin.pdf.

Malkmus, D. J. “Thought Knows No Sex: Women's Rights at Alfred University by Susan Rumsey Strong.” History of Education Quarterly 50 (2010): 417–19.

“Mary Molson Hughes.” Uncrowned Community Builders. Accessed February 16, 2016.

“Orra L.C. Hughes.” Uncrowned Community Builders. Accessed February 16, 2016.

“Orra L.C. Hughes,” 1880 census. Collins Center, Erie County, New York. Dwelling 273. Accessed February 13, 2016.

Quigley, David. Second Founding: New York City, Reconstruction, and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage (1871-1876). New York: Fowlers & Wells, 1882.


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