Mary Fitzbutler Waring

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mary Fitzbutler Waring, 1870-1958

By Brittany Harper and Morgan Lewis-Harris
Undergraduates, Hampton University
Faculty Sponsor: Maureen Elgersman Lee



Mary F. Waring
Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, 1900-1922 (Chicago, Ill.: n.p., 1922), p. 62

Mary Fitzbutler was born in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, on or around November 1, 1870, but was raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Fitzbutler’s childhood hopes of becoming a doctor were shaped by the fact that both her parents, Sarah and Henry Fitzbutler, were physicians and that she helped her father in the Louisville hospital he founded and ran. Waring attended public schools in Louisville and attended normal school in preparation for what would be a brief teaching career. In 1901, Mary Fitzbutler married Frank Waring. The couple returned to Frank Waring’s home in Chicago, the permanent base for Mary Fitzbutler Waring’s personal and professional life’s work.

In November 1911, Mary Fitzbutler Waring represented the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) at the National Council of Women’s Executive Session, serving as a replacement for Fannie Barrier Williams at the meeting of this predominantly white organization. Waring’s other convention appearances included the NACW’s July 1912 meeting at Hampton Institute. In 1913, Waring became the secretary of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. She also served as chair of the NACW’s Department of Health and Hygiene.

Surviving correspondence between Mary Fitzbutler Waring and Crisis editor, W.E.B. Dubois and co-editor Jessie Fauset reveals that Waring’s interests were not simply local. She had an interest in Pan-Africanism and in attending the 1921 Pan-African Congress in Europe. In 1922, Waring succeeded in raising almost three hundred dollars to help restore the Frederick Douglass Memorial Home in Washington, D.C. During this era, Waring would also turn her attentions to the practice of medicine she envisioned as a child, and in 1923, she graduated from the National Medical College in Chicago.

After the death of her first husband, Mary Fitzbutler Waring married Charles F. Cantrell on August 14, 1930. That same year she was elected vice president of the NACW. During Waring’s vice presidency, the NACW underwent dramatic restructuring that reduced its previous 38 departments to a mere two, the National Association of Colored Girls and Women in Industry, Mother, Home and Child. In 1933, after more than two decades of club work, Waring was elected president of the NACW; she was elected to a second presidential term in 1935. During her tenure as NACW president, Waring went so far as to petition President Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate the nation’s railroad passenger cars. Mary Fitzbutler Waring died in Chicago on December 3, 1958.

Sources: "Mary Fitzbutler Waring," in Notable Black American Women; United States Census, 1880, database with images, FamilySearch, 2016; Mary F. Waring to W.E.B Dubois, March 18, 1921, W.E.B. DuBois Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, Amherst, Mass.; Jessie Redmon Fauset to Mary F. Waring, March 21, 1921, W.E.B. DuBois Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, Amherst, Mass; Mary Fitzbutler Waring to Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 11, 1933, in Jim Crow America: A Documentary History, Catherine M. Lewis and J. Richard Lewis, eds. (Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press, 2009), pp. 84-85; “Waring, Mary Fitzbutler,” in Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin, eds., The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015).


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs
Who's Who in Colored America



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