Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists
Biography of Irene Moorman (Blackstone), 1875-?


Susan Goodier, History Lecturer, SUNY Oneonta

Irene L. Moorman was born, the daughter of Johanna Moorman, in Virginia in 1875. Her mother was recorded as a married servant in the 1880 census for Charlottesville, but there is no record for Irene. They moved to New York by 1900 and Irene worked for the Metropolitan Mercantile and Realty Company. By September 1908 she was the superintendent of the company's Brooklyn office. In the 1940 census she reported that she had completed two years of college. In 1910 Irene and Johanna Moorman lived together on Willow Street in Queens and Irene worked as a representative for a public restaurant. In November 1911 she married James Blackstone, but the couple never appear together in censuses. He may well have died in the 1910s, because Irene Moorman Blackstone was recorded as a widow according to New York censuses between 1920 and 1940.

Irene continued to live with her mother, now on Lenox Ave. in Harlem, and in 1913 was said to be working as a servant. In the 1920 census she lived with her mother and was listed as a newsdealer, working on her own account. Her mother died in 1928 and Irene continued to live on Lenox Ave in 1930, but now by herself. She was listed as a political organizer, consistent with her support of woman suffrage. She was employed as a clerk in government work in 1940, when she was a lodger at Mt. Morris Park West in Harlem.

Moorman served as president of the Negro Women's Business League and represented the Metropolitan Business Women's Club, which eventually affiliated with the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. In connection with the Metropolitan Business Women's Club she organized a mass meeting at the Fleet Street AME Zion Church in Brooklyn in December 1908 to discuss plans for "building a hall for the use of Negroes." She also served as treasurer for the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs and on the board of the Young Women's Christian Association. Moorman's activism included supporting both the Lincoln and the White Rose Settlement Houses. Prominent activists such as Fannie Barrier Williams, Mary Church Terrell, and Margaret Murray Washington met with Moorman in her office, an indication of her reputation as a reformer.

Moorman became involved in woman suffrage when she joined Sarah J. S. Garnet's Colored Women's Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn in December 1907. She participated in a tribute to the radical abolitionist John Brown at that meeting. Moorman and Garnet, both representing the Colored Women's Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn, met with wealthy white suffragist Alva Vanderbilt Belmont at her Political Equality Association office in January 1910. Belmont hoped to draw on black women's activist networks to expand the membership of her suffrage association. They scheduled a February meeting at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church on West Fifty-Third Street in New York City. Although two hundred women and men attended the meeting, few black women felt much enthusiasm for Belmont's plan, even when Belmont promised to pay for a meeting place when the branch enrolled one hundred members. In October 1910, representing the Negro Men's and Women's Branch of the Political Equality Association, Moorman spoke about the ways that settlement house workers promoted suffrage and political equality at the New York State Woman Suffrage Association convention in Niagara Falls. Moorman frequently presided over suffrage-related events, including a Literary League suffrage meeting, attended by Belmont and Harriet May Mills, then serving as president of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. The following year, when Belmont lost interest in the Afro-American branch of her association, Moorman commented on the "loneliness" of the club and members' desire to ally themselves with a good live suffrage organization."

Moorman Blackstone had to stand trial in June 1912, charged with using the mail to defraud several well-known white people. The verdict is unclear, but she was likely to have been found innocent, because she did not give up her social justice activism. Like many other black women activists, Moorman Blackstone belonged to many organizations. She attended meetings of the People's Forum and Advocate, St. Mark's Lyceum, the Literary League, the New York City Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, the League for Democracy, and the United Colored Democracy. She served as president of the Women's National Fraternal Business Association in 1919. She often sang solos at meetings and at churches, including at the Rush Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. A 1906 account noted, "There also appeared at this recital a new soprano soloist, Miss I.L. Moorman who has a strong voice of wide range. Miss Moorman sang several selections and received an encore and a beautiful bouquet of roses."

A "well-known socialist," she attended Marcus Garvey's first public appearance in New York City in 1916. She served as president of the ladies' division of the New York Branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by Garvey to promote "racial pride, economic self-sufficiency, and the formation of an independent black nation in Africa." Moorman Blackstone bought stock in the Black Star Line steamship venture when it was launched in spring 1919, one of the first to do so.

Irene Moorman Blackstone earned a living by selling newspapers in Harlem. She continued her political efforts after women won the right to vote, affiliating with the Democratic Party. She is described in a 1923 article in the Negro World (the UNIA newspaper) as "an unusually bold and race-loving character, who is not happy unless doing something to promote the interests of her race." In May 1930, the United Colored Democracy honored her with a dinner party for her work as its Commissioner on Organization for the Tammany Hall Study Club. She continued her activism for racial uplift at least until 1944, when she served as second vice-president on the board of the Ethiopian World Federation. It is not clear when she died.

Sources: "Afro-American Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1907, 6; "Afro-American Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 6, 1907, 7; and "Business Women's Clubs," New York Age, December 12, 1907, 2; "In Memory of John Brown," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 12, 1907, 9; "Women Visit Mercantile and Realty Company," New York Age, September 17, 1908, 10; "Afro-American Notes," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 15, 1908, 41; "Past Week in Brooklyn," New York Age, December 24, 1908, 5; and "Colored Women Convene," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 8, 1909, 5; "Address Negro Suffragists," Houston Post (Houston, TX), January 20, 1910, 2; "Mrs. Belmont Crosses Line," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 7, 1910, 2; "Suffrage for All," Washington Bee, February 12, 1910, 1; "What Women are Doing," Oakland [California] Tribune, February 22, 1910, 8; "Suffrage for Negresses," New York Times, January 19, 1910, 5; "Branch of Political Equality Association," Afro-American, October 15, 1910, 7; "Literary League Meets," New York Age, December 15, 1910, 1; "Brooklyn Notes," New York Age, September 28, 1911, 7; "Negro Vote for Mrs. Ruhlin," New York Times, October 19, 1911, 3; "Women Will Nominate Dana," Sun, October 19, 1911, 1; "Arrested on Fraud Charge by Government," New York Age, June 13, 1912, 1; May Martel, "Women's Department: Colored Women in Demonstration," New York Age, March 13, 1913, 5; "Home News," October 10, 1917; "First Emanuel Church," New York Age, May 25, 1918, 8; New York Age, February 15, 1919; "League for Democracy Organizes Local Camp," New York Age, May 31, 1919, 7; "Rush Memorial Church," New York Age, March 19, 1921, 8; "White Rose Home," New York Age, February 9, 1924, 8; "Manhattan Personals," New York Age, May 24, 1930, 2; "St. James Church," New York Age, April 15, 1933, 7; "Movement Started to Stimulate Interest in Negro Business," New York Age, February 10, 1940, 3; "Ethiopians Hold Rally," New York Age, January 1, 1944, 5. See also Julie A. Gallagher, Black Women and Politics in New York City (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 1, 6, 33, 38, 45; Robert A. Hill, ed., The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Negro World, September 8, 1923 and August 8, 1931. Irene Moorman Blackstone is also listed as one of the people investigated by the Department of Justice. See Mark Naison, ed., "The Communist Party," Department of Justice Investigative Files, part 2, Research Collections in American Radicalism (Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 1989).

Brief information about the United Colored Democracy can be found at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, the New York Public Library, digitized at

Census listings are available for Moorman and then Blackstone in New York City, 1910-1940. Accessible online via

Irene L. Moorman-James Blackston[e] marriage record, November 29, 1911, online in Ancestry Library Edition.


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