Cora Catherine Calhoun Horne

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Cora Catherine Calhoun Horne (Horn), 1865-1932

By Nancy Page Fernandez, Professor Emeritus, California State University, Fullerton

“Service was her religion. She enjoyed life to the fullest and was not forgetful of life’s responsibilities.” Letter from E.F. Horne to W.E.B. Du Bois, Sept. 16, 1932

Cora Calhoun Horne lived a fascinating and complicated life, one dedicated to serving her family and African American struggles for dignity, equality and social justice. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in November 1865, to newlyweds Moses and Atlanta Mary Fernando Calhoun. Cora’s 35-year-old freedman father had been the house slave butler owned by Andrew Bonaparte (A.B.) Calhoun, one of Georgia’s wealthiest and most powerful men; Cora’s mother was born free in 1845. Moses Calhoun started a small grocery, followed by a restaurant and boardinghouse. As a successful entrepreneur and landowner, he quickly joined Atlanta’s black bourgeoisie.

Cora Calhoun and her sister Lena, born in 1869, grew up belles of Atlanta’s black society. They received the best education available, attending the Storrs Elementary School founded by the American Missionary Association to serve black youth. In 1881 Cora earned a teaching degree from Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta). The Calhoun family participated actively in the First Congregational Church where the integrated membership openly defied Jim Crow. Sisters Cora and Lena enjoyed an active social life filled with dances, picnics and opportunities to meet eligible bachelors including a rising thinker named W.E.B. Du Bois.

Around 1886 Cora met Edwin F. Horn, born in 1859 in Tennessee to a British father and indigenous or mixed race mother. The Horns raised their family in Evansville, Indiana, where Edwin grew up to love poetry, music and writing. When they met, Edwin, already twice a widower, was a successful newspaper owner and teacher with striking hazel eyes and wavy brown hair. The pair married October 26, 1887, in her parents’ Birmingham home.

The couple’s first child, Errol Stanley, was born in 1889, followed by Edwin “Teddy” Fletcher in 1893. Their third son Frank Smith was born in 1899 by which time the family had left the increasingly segregated and violent South for New York city. After living briefly in the West Fifties “Black Bohemia” area of the city with its rich literary and cultural milieu, the Horns moved to a respectable brownstone on Chauncey Street, joining Brooklyn’s Black middle class. Their final child, John Burke, arrived in 1905.

While motherhood demanded much of Cora’s time and energy, organizational and political connections provided avenues for exercising her social consciousness. In the late 1890s she became a founding member of the Brooklyn chapter of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). After a white instructor with less seniority was promoted over him, Edwin left teaching and took a position as secretary with the United Colored Democracy, better known as the Afro-American Tammany Hall Organization. He changed his party affiliation to Democrat and added an “e” to the family name. Edwin worked closely with T. Thomas Fortune, editor of The New York Age and his new mentor. Fortune was also a supporter of women’s rights, publishing and speaking about the “New African American Woman.” Both Cora and Edwin became early members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Like-minded women friends and Edwin’s political circles informed and sustained Cora’s civic interests while she focused on family responsibilities.

In the early-1910s John Burke entered primary school, and Cora could begin to work actively for Black and women’s causes. Family members recall that she became a passionate supporter of woman suffrage. She does not appear to have participated in a group devoted solely to votes for women, however, suffrage weaves throughout her organizational affiliations and personal networks. The Equal Suffrage League, an organization of “colored women suffragists,” was active in Brooklyn as early as 1910 and associated with the NACW. In September 1912 Cora attended a social gathering to honor Mrs. Carrie W. Clifford Carrie W. Clifford--a NACW national leader, prominent African American writer, NAACP member, and suffrage activist--held at the Brooklyn home of Addie Waites Hunton who was a founding member of the NACW, active in the Equal Suffrage League and employed in outreach by the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Clifford was also honored at a reception hosted by the Equal Suffrage League. Other guests at Hunton’s event were Dr. Verina Morton-Jones—a black woman physician who was President of the Equal Suffrage League, co-founder of the Lincoln Settlement House, and a local NAACP leader as well as Mrs. Minta Trotman, an NACW member and future President of the Civic League, who also assisted Hunton during the celebration. Cora no doubt knew these women and other attendees from her NACW and NAACP affiliations. Her personal and organizational networks advanced multiple social causes, including equal suffrage for women.

Cora quickly expanded her civic service. In 1913, perhaps encouraged by Hunton, she became active in the YWCA. Cora organized the girls work program and directed a Red Cross unit to make and repair surgical bandages. In recognition of her contributions, Cora was appointed to the mayor’s Victory Committee. She continued actively participating in the NACW and the NAACP and by 1918 was also involved with the Brooklyn League on Urban Conditions and the Big Brother and Big Sister Federation, organizations in which she would hold many leadership positions and with which she would continue working until the end of her life.

During the mid-1910s the woman suffrage campaign gained momentum nationally, and especially in New York. Black women organized into suffrage study clubs. White suffragists canvassed New York neighborhoods to recruit black women to march in suffrage parades. The Colored Woman’s Suffrage Club, Brooklyn, hosted Mrs. D.W. Barker, Woman’s Suffrage Party, at their February 1914 meeting and organized “the first colored mass meeting planned for this city” for March 2. October 1917, in a final drive to support the New York suffrage amendment, 25,000 supporters—including Black women--marched down Fifth Avenue. Wives, mothers and sisters with relatives in military service paraded as a group, each carrying a flag to recognize their loved one. Perhaps Cora, whose eldest son Errol was in the army under General Pershing in Mexico, marched with them. The New York suffrage amendment won in 1917 due, in part, to black women’s activism.

Family continued to play a significant role in Cora’s life. She and Edwin became distant, as he pursued his interests in music and the arts and she became more involved with social causes. Rumors he had an affair with the attractive editor of Vogue Magazine probably added tension to the marriage. The family and community celebrated second son Teddy’s marriage to longtime childhood friend Edna Scottron, and on June 30, 1917, the Hornes welcomed the arrival of first grandchild Lena. By 1920 that marriage faltered; Teddy left for new business opportunities, Edna left to pursue a stage career, and toddler Lena was left in the care of the elder Hornes. Tragedy entered Cora’s life in 1918 with the news that her first-born Errol, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, succumbed to influenza in France.

In the midst of unexpected responsibilities and loss, Cora continued to expand her social activism and civic leadership. In 1918 she was a member with colleagues Addie Hunton and Verina Morton-Jones in the Urban League’s “Big Sister Club,” chaired by Minta Trotman. In 1919 Cora’s expertise in issues for black girls led her to be named a board member of the International Big Brother and Big Sister Federation, a post she would hold until her death. In 1920 she represented the Brooklyn League on Urban Conditions at the National Urban League Conference. By 1922 Cora was serving both as Director of the Brooklyn Urban League and as an officer in the Brooklyn NAACP chapter. She worked in both organizations with the Lincoln Settlement House and its founder Verina Morton-Jones, a former member of the NAACP Board of Directors. Cora was selected as a delegate to represent the Brooklyn chapter of the NACW at their 1924 national convention in Chicago, where she also served on the Big Sister Committee. She attended the 1927 NACW National Convention, this time as secretary of the Brooklyn delegation and as a representative on the Nominating Committee. Addie Hunton attended both national conventions as a delegate and, in her capacity as President of the New York State Federation of Women’s Clubs, appointed Cora as editor-in-chief of its newsletter the Empire State Voice. Cora planned and participated in countless meetings, traveled to conferences and speaking engagements, provided leadership at the local and national levels, attended and organized fundraising efforts, and held meetings and events in her home. The “evening of evenings” she hosted at the Bahai Center with guest Mary McLeod Bethune in 1930 for the Foreign Study Club was surely a highlight.

While we have largely circumstantial evidence of Cora’s support for woman suffrage, we know with certainty that she became actively involved in party and international politics. She joined the National Republican Women’s Auxiliary, serving in 1924 as corresponding secretary for the Eastern Division and vice-president of the New York chapter. She campaigned actively as part of the national speakers’ bureau for Coolidge’s presidential campaign. Cora also gave her attention to U.S. foreign policy and the rights of black women internationally by participating, along with Addie Hunton and other NACW leaders, in founding the International Council of Women of the Darker Races. The organization, while short-lived, sought to connect women of color around the world in a common struggle for equal rights.

Granddaughter Lena lived in the Horne household for most of the 1920s and later became an accomplished and successful singer. Cora raised her sons to be good men but perhaps she wished for a daughter to share her social and political commitments. She enrolled Lena as a member of the NAACP when the child was just two years old. Cora frequently brought Lena along to meetings and events. The little girl was instructed to listen and later quizzed on her learning. During Cora’s sojourns Lena stayed at the homes of her grandmother’s clubwomen, Urban League and NAACP friends. Lena Horne mused in her autobiography that “the part of me that responds to causes or to injustices, or issues fighting comments on all kinds of issues, that part of me is the creation of my proud, activist grandmother, who never seemed to be afraid of anything.”

In February of 1932 Cora served on the organizing committee for an Atlanta University alumni dinner held, of course, at the YWCA. The event celebrated the university’s affiliation with other African American-serving colleges and achieving graduate school status. The university President and Dean of the Regents were featured speakers, along with Cora’s long-time friend W.E.B. Du Bois. The alumni dinner was one of her final acts of service. Cora Catherine Calhoun Horne died at home on September 23, 1932.


Letter from E.F. Horne to W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois Papers, Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1910-1917.

“Honor Harriet B. Stowe—Colored women’s equal suffrage league meets in her memory,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 16, 1910, p. 6.

“Calder talks on suffrage,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 22, 1910, p. 5.

“Talks to suffragists,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 21, 1911, p. 2.

“Reception to honor Mrs. Clifford,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 22, 1912, p. 2.

“A Suffrage Study Club,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 8, 1913, p. 10.

“Suffragists out recruiting,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 2, 1913, p. 7.

“Suffrage News,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 28, 1914, p. 20.

“Colored suffragists plan mass meeting,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1914, p.8.

“25,000 Suffs win cheers in parade,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 28, 1917, p. 5.

Buckley, Gail Lumet. The Black Calhouns. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016

--------. The Hornes: An American Family. New York: Knopf, 1986.

Chicago Defender, 1925-1932

“War worker is also politician, editor,” Chicago Defender, Oct. 31, 1925, p. A2.

“Mrs. Cora Calhoun Horne, noted clubwoman, dies,” Chicago Defender, Sept. 24, 1932, p. 4.

Coleman, Maya. “Verina Morton Jones.”

“Cora Catherine Calhoun Horne” in Notable Black American Women, vol. 11, 302-04. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Goodier, Susan and Pastorello, Karen. Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2017.

Horne, Lena and Richard Schickel. Lena. Garden City N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965, p. 42.

Jones, Adrienne Lash. “Addie Waites Hunton: Social Justice and Human Rights Activist.”

New York Age, 1910-1932..

“Mrs. Clifford entertained,” New York Age, Sept. 26, 1912, p.3.

“Female Suffrage Notes,” New York Age, Oct. 11, 1917, p. 8.

“Big Sister Club meets,” New York Age, Jan. 19, 1918, p. 8.

“Mrs. E.F. Horne again on Big Sisters Board,” New York Age, Nov. 28, 1931, p. 3.

“Brooklyn Urban League notes,” New York Age, Oct. 16, 1920, p. 8.

“First Street Memorial A.M.E.Z. Church.” New York Age, May 27, 1922, p. 7.

“Republican women in campaign organize a permanent auxiliary,” New York Age, Nov.

22, 1924, p. 9.

“G.O.P women continue auxiliary committee in Eastern division,” New York Age, March

14, 1925, p. 3.

“Notice to the members of the Brooklyn Urban League and the Lincoln Settlement Association,” New York Age, Jan. 15, 1927, p. 9.

“Women attend session of national council,” New York Age, Dec. 17, 1927, p. 2.

“Mrs. Bethune was guest of foreign study club,” New York Age, Dec. 20, 1930, p 2.

“Atlanta University alumni in New York hear details of 6-year plan to make great university center,” New York Age, Feb. 27, 1932, p. 1,2.

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