Fannie Hopkins Hamilton


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Fannie Hopkins Hamilton, 1882-1964


By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

Fannie Hamilton, founding treasurer of the Wilmington, Delaware, Equal Suffrage Study Club, was born Frances Eleanor Hopkins in Queen Anne County, Maryland, in 1882. Her father William Hopkins, an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, died when Fannie and her younger siblings, John O. and Mary E. (Mamie), were small children. By 1893, her mother, Mary Elizabeth Hopkins, had remarried and moved the family to Wilmington, Delaware, where Fannie’s stepfather, Benjamin Briggs, a Virginia native, worked both as a Baptist clergyman and a bricklayer, while her mother helped sustain the family economy by taking in boarders at the Briggs home, on Wilmington’s East Side. The Hopkins/Briggs family placed a great deal of importance on the children’s education. Fannie and her siblings attended local schools, with her brother John O. Hopkins becoming a graduate of The Howard School, the only four-year high school in Wilmington for African American children, and then completing advanced training at the Philadelphia Academy of Pharmacy. Fannie became a skilled seamstress; Mamie taught school for a time.

In 1901, Fannie married George W. Hamilton, a Delaware native who worked at various skilled occupations before being hired as a fireman at the DuPont Company Powder Works in Carney’s Point, New Jersey. Perhaps seeking to avoid the dangers of such work, where fires and explosions were commonplace, he later became a school fireman. Fannie and George’s two daughters—Katherine Lorraine and Georgina Elizabeth—were born in 1904 and 1910, respectively. During these years, Fannie pursued her occupation as a seamstress and dressmaker, operating a dressmaking shop from the Hamilton family home, located within Wilmington’s small middle-class African American neighborhood, and travelling to Philadelphia to pursue advanced training. In 1908, she graduated from a professional dressmaking and tailoring course at Drexel Institute (now Drexel University). With her skills in demand, Fannie Hamilton began conducting dressmaking classes, first at the Garrett Settlement and then as part of the evening school and adult night school faculties at several Wilmington “colored” schools. For decades, she ran her own dressmaking establishment during the day, taking on young female apprentices who wished to learn the trade, and taught professional dressmaking in the evening. Among her clients she counted Alice Moore Dunbar (later Dunbar-Nelson), a writer, poet, political activist and renowned English teacher at Howard High School.

Fannie Hamilton’s involvement in the Equal Suffrage Study Club likely emerged from the contacts she made in her profession, as well as through The Howard School and local politics. In helping to support the Neighborhood House, a predecessor to the Garrett Settlement, she worked with the settlement’s founding director, Blanche Williams Stubbs and its backers, including Mary J. Woodlen, Caroline B. Williams, and Alice M. Dunbar. Living and working at 204 E. Tenth Street, she was part of “Teachers’ Row,” where many Howard High School teachers resided. Her neighbors included the school’s admired principal, Edwina B. Kruse, and several teachers, including Caroline Williams, Nellie B. Nicholson (later Taylor), and Alice G. Baldwin. Significant, too, was the political stature of her brother John O. Hopkins, who in 1913 was elected from the Sixth Ward to serve on Wilmington’s City Council, a position to which he was regularly re-elected for over three decades until he retired in 1945. While on the council, Hopkins regularly challenged racially exclusionary policies, including segregation in city courts and public spaces. A pharmacist who used the courtesy title of “Doctor,” John Hopkins co-owned a drug store with Dr. Conwell Banton, one of a handful of African American physicians in Wilmington. John Hopkins also founded Wilmington’s National Theatre to serve the black community; it included meeting spaces and a ballroom for use by clubs and associations.

At the organizing meeting of the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Study Club on March 19, 1914, Fannie Hamilton volunteered her services as treasurer. Looking around the room in the home of her neighbor Emma Belle Gibson Sykes, she would have seen neighbors and clients, many of them teachers, most of them stalwarts within the recently founded Wilmington branch of the NAACP. It seems likely that her experience as a businesswoman gave her the confidence to volunteer for the position, and the other founders the confidence to choose her. At bi-monthly meetings, the group discussed “questions of municipal, state, national, and international interests.” In May, 1914, the members marched, in a separate unit, in Wilmington’s first big suffrage parade. With suffrage won in 1920, club members reconstituted themselves as the Colored Women’s Republican Committee. Throughout the 1920s, Fannie Hamilton was active on the committee, working alongside other members of the group to help register voters in the Wilmington’s Sixth Ward and to promote the candidacy of a local physician, Conwell Banton, who was John O. Hopkins’s business partner, to the city’s Board of Education. She gave time as well to the Red Circle Community Association, which raised funds to provide play spaces and to improve playgrounds for African American children. When a group of co-workers organized a branch of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, she joined and helped organize events at Howard High School and at her brother’s National Theater.

During the war years, Fannie Hamilton could be found volunteering for a variety of community projects, many of them connected to the “Walnut Street Y” as the African American branch of the YMCA/YWCA was known in Wilmington. Her activities included staffing a consumer’s institute to help families plan their wartime clothing budgets, working to provide foster homes and year-round recreational programs for black children, and fund-raising for the local Red Cross. Throughout, co-workers likely relied, as did her family, upon Fannie’s economic skills and business acumen. She handled family real estate matters when needed; her signature on probate records for her mother and sister is firm, strong, and clear.

The close-knit Hamilton family provided support for both her professional and her volunteer work throughout the decades. Her daughters continued to live at the family home on East 10th Street while attending college and becoming school teachers. K. Lorraine enjoyed a long career as an early childhood educator and teacher in Wilmington’s schools, having trained at the Philadelphia Normal School and at Temple University. After her death in 2002, Howard High School students memorialized Lorraine Hamilton along with other Wilmington leaders in a mural they helped create and paint at East 10th and Pine Streets. Elizabeth Hamilton Anderson (later Parker) received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and taught for many years in Wilmington’s public schools. When she married Edwin Kruse Anderson (named for Edwina Kruse), he joined the household and pursued his career as a photographer; he died in 1958. (Edwin was a nephew by marriage of Bessie Spence Dorrell, another founding member of the Equal Suffrage Study Club.)

When her family composed an obituary for Fannie Hopkins Hamilton in 1964, they emphasized that she had been married “for more than 62 years to George Walter Hamilton.” He survived her by three years, cared for in the family home by Lorraine and Elizabeth. They were buried at Wilmington’s historic Mount Olive Cemetery, after services at Bethel AME Church.


Genealogical details on the Hopkins, Briggs, Hamilton, and Anderson families can be traced through censuses, vital records, and city directories found on and The following obituaries provide significant details: “Mrs. G. W. Hamilton,” Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, April 20, 1964, p. 12; “Elizabeth A. Parker,” Wilmington Morning News, March 1, 1984, p. B5; “K. Lorraine Hamilton,” Wilmington News-Journal, November 6, 2002, p. B6; “Ex-Councilman J. O. Hopkins Dies,” Morning News, March 12, 1956, p. 4.

Significant newspaper articles on Fannie Hopkins Hamilton’s activism and career include: “Neighborhood House Opened,” Morning News, October 19,1911, p.1; “Mrs. Hamilton Graduate of Drexel” Evening Journal, June 11, 1908, p. 8; “Negro Women to Study Suffrage,” Morning News, March 21, 1914, p. 2; “Classes in Dressmaking,” Evening Journal, October 26, 1915, p. 4; “Ask $2500 for Social Centre,” ibid., September 22, 1921, p. 14; “Registration Boards Named,” ibid., June 16, 1926, pp. 1-2; “Woman’s Day at Big Bethel Church,” ibid., April 9, 1927, p. 4; “Class Entertains Teacher,” Wilmington Evening Journal-Every Evening, April 8, 1935, p. 11; “‘Y.W’ Unit Plans Drive for Funds,” Morning News, April 8, 1942, p. 12; “Consumers Institute to Open September 3,” ibid., August 22, 1942, p. 2; “Recreation Program for Negro Youth Urged,” ibid., August 5, 1943, p. 6. For mention of her night school teaching, consult State of Delaware Department of Public Instruction, Educational Directories, 1934-35 through 1942-43.

Fannie Hamilton’s work settling family probate and property matters can be traced through family wills found at the New Castle County Register of Wills Office in Wilmington, Delaware. See wills #14585 (Benjamin Briggs); #7939 (Mary Briggs); #34036 (Mary Hopkins Stafford). See also “Bank Zoning Appeal Decision Reserved,” Morning News, November 2, 1950, p. 25. Alice Dunbar-Nelson was a client of Fannie Hamilton’s; her diary includes a few notations on Hamilton’s work as a dressmaker; see Give Us Each Day: The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, ed. Gloria T. Hull (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

For broad context on Delaware’s African American community, see Annette Woolard-Provine, Integrating Delaware: The Reddings of Wilmington (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2003); Carol Hoffecker and Annette Woolard, “Black Women in Delaware’s History,”; and Pauline A. Young, “The Negro in Delaware: Past and Present,” in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Bjornson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), II, 581-606.


Related Writings in Database

View works about

back to top