Caroline B. Williams


Biographical Database of African American Suffragists

Biography of Caroline B. Williams, 1875-1971


By Stephanie Clampitt, Undergraduate Student, University of Delaware
Edited by Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

Caroline B. Williams was born in Washington, D.C. in 1875, to Robert S. Williams, a hotel waiter, and Delia [Taylor?] Williams, both of whom had been born in Virginia. She spent some of her early years in Westfield, Massachusetts, and later taught at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The school was founded by Lewis Adams, a former slave, and George W. Campbell, a former slave owner, in 1881, and was the first major educational institution in the South to have an all-black faculty. Tuskegee quickly became associated with the ideas of Booker T. Washington, the school’s first principal, whose philosophy of self-reliance and industrial education shaped its curriculum. The experience that Caroline Williams gained at Tuskegee allowed her to build a comfortable life for herself, teaching at the Howard School in Wilmington, Delaware, where she moved in 1898. Her hiring to fill a vacancy in the school’s Grammar Department came soon after a visit by Booker T. Washington to the city. In 1900, the school’s principal, Edwina B. Kruse, noted: “Miss Caroline B. Williams has had charge of all the geography taught in the grammar department. Her subjects have been presented always in an interesting and helpful manner.” Later, she moved into teaching geography in the high school and pursued further training at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education in 1930.

In Wilmington, Caroline Williams made her home within a supportive circle of family and colleagues, a circle that expanded at times to include students. Initially, she shared living quarters with her aunt, Mary Ellen Taylor, at 202 E. 10th Street; in 1909, she purchased the house. At various times, the household included relatives, other teachers at Howard School, and students who boarded with her while attending the high school. In 1910, for instance, the house sheltered Emma Belle Gibson (later Sykes) and Arleon Bowser—both teachers at the school—her aunt (who died in 1918), a nephew, Leonard Edmonds, and two students. In 1920, teachers Nellie Nicholson (later Taylor) and Helen Henderson boarded with Williams, as did her widowed sister, Elizabeth Williams Tyler, a nurse who had trained at the Freedman’s Hospital Training School in Washington, D.C. and was employed by the state of Delaware on the staff of a local health center and well-baby clinic. Another sister, Adelaide Williams Edmonds, who had arrived in the city around 1900, lived nearby with her second husband, Edward Corbin, and their blended family of six children. Fifteen-year-old Cora Berry from Maryland lived with Williams while attending Howard High School and training to become a teacher. She capped a long teaching career in 1951 when, now Cora Berry Saunders, she became one of the first two African American women to receive Master’s degrees from the newly integrated University of Delaware.

Being a teacher at the Howard School and living on East 10th Street in Wilmington established Caroline B. Williams as part of the African American middle class, and gave her many connections within that community. Teaching was a middle-class profession; however, being middle-class African-American meant that you lived a comfortable life, not a wealthy life. Due to Jim Crow laws, Delaware was segregated, so African Americans could only teach in black schools and, in general, conduct business with black clients. Many teachers from Howard lived on East 10th and 11th Streets in Wilmington, the main African-American middle-class enclave. Edwina B. Kruse, the principal of the Howard School, lived at 206 E. 10th Street, along with Alice G. Baldwin, who directed the school’s teacher preparation program, and Anna Brodnax, the high school’s Latin and Greek teacher. Upon her marriage Emma Gibson Sykes moved down the block to number 208. Across the street, at 203 E. 10th Street was Lewis A. Redding, a postal worker and civil rights activist, whose son Louis Lorenzo Redding, in 1929 became the first African lawyer admitted to the Delaware bar. Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar (later Dunbar-Nelson), head of the English Department, lived around the corner on French Street, at one point in the same house as Caroline Williams’s sister Adelaide Corbin.

It is perhaps no surprise that Caroline Williams became an active suffragist. Working and living alongside other suffragists, most notably Alice Dunbar, she was a likely person to attend the founding meeting of the Equal Suffrage Study Club in March, 1914, at Emma Sykes’s home. Alice Dunbar became president, and Emma Sykes, vice president; Caroline Williams added her name to the membership list. The club was open to anyone in the public who was interested in the suffrage movement involving colored women. They held meetings bimonthly, and the object of the club was to analyze the feminist movement and become familiar with “questions of municipal, state, national, and international interests.” In May, club members marched, in a separate contingent, in Wilmington’s first suffrage parade. In early September, 1920, the Suffrage Club disbanded and reconstituted itself as a “committee of Colored Republican women” to “organize for practical political purposes.” Along with Alice G. Baldwin, Caroline B. Williams served as secretary of the new organization. Under the leadership of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, the two women blocked out the city into manageable districts and appointed members who canvassed Wilmington’s wards in order to encourage African American women to register and vote in the upcoming elections. In mid-September, 1920, a Wilmington newspaper reported “brisk registration” across the city; “white and colored women alike are enrolling to vote.”

Besides being a suffragist, Caroline B. Williams was also an active member of many other professional, civic, and religious organizations, most notably the NAACP. In 1914, Lewis A. Redding along with Alice Moore Dunbar got permission from the New York headquarters of the NAACP to begin a chapter in Wilmington. The following January the Wilmington branch was officially chartered. Caroline Williams became a founding member, along with her sister Adelaide, Alice Baldwin, Blanche Williams Stubbs, Emma Gibson Sykes, Nellie Nicholson, Mary J. Woodlen, and other colleagues from the Equal Suffrage Study Club. The Williams sisters’ names could be found on NAACP membership lists for years thereafter. Along with being involved in the NAACP, Caroline B. Williams was also a member National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs; at the organizing meeting in 1936, she was selected as one of the group’s two chaplains, and in 1942, she was elected historian. Other commitments included fundraising for Howard High School, serving on the board of the Layton Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons, participating in the College Women’s Club, and being a lifelong member of Wilmington’s “colored” YWCA. She was particularly active as a congregant and board member of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Wilmington, the first African American Baptist congregation in Delaware, and in 1956 spoke at the annual meeting of the United Baptist Convention, which dedicated a special day of prayer for interracial understanding. Like many other suffragists, Williams held leadership positions in such organizations in order to improve the conditions of her community.

As a teacher of geography, Williams undoubtedly envisioned an opportunity to travel during the summer of 1935 as a way to enrich her classes. Along with Arleon Bowser, who taught French at Howard High School, she embarked on a two-month tour of France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. Led by Adolph Hodge, a well-known teacher and tour organizer from Brooklyn, New York, the trip consisted almost exclusively of African American teachers. While on the tour, the entire group was greeted by the Pope in the throne room of the Vatican.

Caroline B. Williams was an active advocate for African-American men and women throughout her life. She continued teaching at Howard High School for more than 40 years. In 1971 she died at the age of 96 in Wilmington; her sister, Adelaide Williams Edmonds Corbin, 102, was her only immediate survivor. At her death, she had accumulated an estate valued at $33,542, a tidy sum that she bequeathed to her niece Cordelia Edmonds Fauntleroy, with additional bequests to three surviving Edmonds and Corbin nieces and nephews. Her funeral service was held at her beloved Shiloh Baptist Church, and she was buried at Wilmington’s historic Mount Olive Cemetery. Through everything that Caroline B. Williams accomplished throughout her life it is clear that she was passionate and committed to equal legal and political rights for African American women and men.

Photo: Howard High School Staff, c. 1930. Caroline B. Williams is second row, sixth from right.


Source: Pauline A. Young Papers, Special Collections Department University of Delaware Library.

Front Row: Robert Harris, Anna Brodnax, Helen Worley Webb, George Anderson Johnson [principal, 1924-59], Pauline Young (librarian), Sara Strickland Scott, Millard Naylor.

Second Row: Ethel Barner Harris, Charlotte Slowe, Josephine Weston, Caroline B. Williams, Nellie B. Taylor, Sadie Jones, Thelma Trice Young, Arleon C. Bowser, Gwendolyn Redding

Third Row: Arthur Wheeler, Marguerite Turner, M. Leila Young (mother of Pauline Young), Etta [Roach] Woodlen, James A. Gardiner, Lillian Spencer Mayo, George Oscar Carrington

Top Row: Emanuel Whitten, Pauline Coleman, Nathalie Anderson Cross, George Whitten.

Note on Sources:

Biographical details on Caroline B. Williams’s family and career can be traced in censuses, city directories, and genealogical records available on and For a profile of her sister, Elizabeth Williams Tyler, see Adah B. Thomas, Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses (New York: Kay Printing House, 1929): 40-44.

An obituary appeared in the Wilmington, Delaware, Morning News, December 21, 1971, p. 41. Her will can be found at the New Castle County Register of Wills office, Wilmington, Delaware, file #59868.

For her teaching career, see the Educational Directories of the State of Delaware (Dover: State Department of Public Instruction, 1914- ), and Edwina Kruse’s comment in Report Concerning the City of Wilmington Public Schools (Wilmington: Press of Mercantile Printing Co., 1900), p. 115. Newspaper articles detailing her teaching experiences, professional credentials, and travel appeared in the Wilmington Daily Republican, June 28, 1898, p. 1; Wilmington Evening Journal, June 12, 1926, p. 4; Wilmington Evening Journal, February 18, 1930, p. 11; New York Age, June 29, 1935, p. 3; Cleveland Gazette, July 13, 1935, p. 1; Chicago Defender, August. 10, 1935, p. 12; Wilmington Evening Journal, September 11, 1935, p. 2; New York Age, July 18, 1936, p. 4; ibid., November 14, 1942. A photograph of Caroline Williams and Arleon Bowser with the 1935 study abroad group is included in Jeanne D. Nutter, Delaware (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2000), p. 21.

Newspaper articles covering Caroline Williams’s suffrage commitments include “Colored Women Want the Ballot,” Wilmington Evening Journal, March 21, 1914, p. 12; “Equal Suffrage Study Club.” Sunday Morning Star, Jun. 7, 1914, p. 14; “Colored Women’s Republican Club,” Wilmington Evening Journal, September 6, 1920, p. 8; and “Women at Booths to Register Early; Reveal Ages, Too,” ibid., September 18, 1920, pp. 1, 7.

For her activism in the NAACP, see NAACP Papers, microfilm edition, Part 12: Selected Branch Files, 1913-1939; Part B: The Northeast, Reel #1. A photograph of members of the Wilmington chapter appeared in The Crisis, January 1942, p. 37.

Important secondary sources include Annette Woolard-Provine, Integrating Delaware: The Reddings of Wilmington (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003); Alice Dunbar-Nelson, “Delaware: A Jewel of Inconsistencies” The Messenger, 6 (August 1924): 244-46; (September 1924): 276-79; “A Brief History of Our Church,”; and Allison Marie O’Connor, “Tuskegee University (1881 – ),” Black Past:


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