Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Myrtle Foster Cook, 1870-1951

Lia Fabbri, Jordan Yunker

Undergraduates, University of Michigan Dearborn

Myrtle Foster Cook, born April 17, 1870, to James William and Elizabeth Butler Foster was an activist, club organizer, and committed member of the Republican party. Cook spent her early life in Amherstburg, Canada before immigrating to the United States with her parents and siblings in the late 1870s. The family settled in Monroe, Michigan where they enjoyed the privileges afforded to them as members of the town’s elite. The U.S. census alternately listed the Cooks as white, black, and mulatto. Some of the privilege they enjoyed may have been due to the family’s denial of their African heritage.

Cook’s passion for community work began when she was young. Supported by a family active in Monroe’s Baptist church, Cook took leadership roles from a young age. While she still lived in Monroe, she worked as a Sunday school teacher, treasurer, church organist, and occasionally as a leader of church programs and services. After earning a degree from the University of Michigan, Cook left the state in the late 1890s to teach at a black high school in Frankfort, Kentucky, where she met her first husband, Dr. Louis G. Dodd. The couple settled in Muskogee, Oklahoma in the early 1900s so Dodd could establish a medical practice, and this is where Cook’s activist career truly began. A teacher at a government-funded school for black children, Cook grew concerned about the health of black people in the community. She organized the Dorcas Club and as a result, worked to establish a hospital. While in Oklahoma she also organized a series of lectures, recitals, and statewide tours with the help of the State Teachers’ Association. Five years after her first husband’s death, Cook moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1916, to head Lincoln High School’s English department.

In Kansas City, Cook’s activism broadened to the national scale. Cook continued her club work by joining several organizations, including the City Federation, the NAACP, the YWCA, and the Women’s League. In Kansas City she also met her second husband, Hugh O. Todd, head of the mathematics department at Lincoln High School. Along with her husband and friend W.E.B. Du Bois, Cook established the Home Seekers Savings and Loan Association in the late 1920s, a financial institution for African Americans. This is also In Kansas City she also got her start with the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Cook was instrumental in the success of the organization after women’s suffrage passed in 1920, serving in a variety of roles during her years with the organization. In her years with the NACW, she served as editor-manager of the organization’s paper, National Notes, as the chairperson of the western division, elected in 1924, and ultimately secured the position of president of the central district in 1934. Her dedication to the NACW and other black civil rights organizations made her a major name in the Republican party organization, serving as a member of the National Republican Executive Committee in 1928.

While little is known about Cook’s work for suffrage before 1920, she serves as an example of the empowerment that the right to vote afforded women. She organized African American women to use the vote as a tool for the advancement of the race, making waves as a leader in club work and as an active member of the Republican party up until her death from bronchopneumonia in Los Angeles in 1951.

Sources:

Coulter, Charles E. "Institutions of Uplift." Take Up the Black Man's Burden: Kansas City's African American Communities 1865-1939. Columbia: U of Missouri, 2016. 146-47. Print.

Materson, Lisa G. "National Party Politics, 1920-1924." For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932. North Carolina: U Of North Carolina Pr, 2013. 146-48. Print.

Hodges, Ruth A. "Myrtle Foster Cook." In Jessie Carney Smith, ed. Notable Black American Women: Book 2. USA: Gale Research, 1991. 140-43.

They Came To Fight | Kansas City's Role in the Years Leading up to and after World War One (I), accessed online at http://www.theycametofight.org/kansascity.html, 20 Mar. 2017.

"Funeral Services for Mrs. Myrtle F: Cook." Los Angeles Sentinel, 1, Sep 06 1951, p. 1. ProQuest. Web. Accessed 27 Mar. 2017.

Cook, Myrtle F. "Letter from Home Seekers Savings & Loan Association to W. C. Matney, June 16, 1930." Credo. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

W.E.B. Du Bois. "Letter from W. E. B. Du Bois to Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Cook, February 1, 1941." Credo. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Dannett, Sylvia G. L. Profiles of Negro Womanhood, Volume II, 20th Century. Educational Heritage, 1966.


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