Susan E. Cannon Allen



Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Susan Cannon Allen, 1859-1935

By Amber Guyton, Roosevelt University

Susan Cannon Allen was born on May 26, 1859 to James and Clarissa Richardson Cannon in Galesburg, Illinois. Susan was the only daughter of James and Carissa Richardson Cannon, and the great-granddaughter of Thomas and Susan Richardson who migrated through the Underground Railroad from Kentucky, a slave state, to freedom in Knox County. The Richardson family became one of the first African American families to settle in the Galesburg area. Susan's parents, James and Clarissa, played an influential role in organizing the first Methodist Church in Knox County and the family remained active members. Susan received her education at Monmouth schools with the intention of teaching foreign languages but eventually decided to take a different career path by pursuing missionary work through the United Presbyterian Church in Galesburg. In 1877 Susan married John R. Allen in Galesburg, a union that led to twenty children and fifty-six years of marriage until John passed away in 1933.

Susan Allen was actively involved in her community and the racial uplift of African Americans in general. She was a charter member and then vice president (1910-1911) of the Autumn Leaf Club in Galesburg, the oldest Colored Women's Club in the State of Illinois. The club's members assisted the Allen Chapel A. M. E. Church in raising money to help better the Black community there. Susan was also an active member of the Woman's Progressive Club in Galesburg, which she and twenty-four other women founded in 1909. The Women's Progressive Club engaged in charity work and social uplift with an emphasis on serving the elderly and the poor. Susan served as a trustee, steward, and president for the Woman's Progressive Club.

As Susan Allen steeped herself in community work, she also began to dedicate herself to empowering her race through politics and wider social networks. She maintained membership with the Republican Club where she became an advocate for temperance and female suffrage. Mrs. Allen also had the opportunity to assist J. H. Atwood at Knox College with collecting data and research for the history of African Americans living in Knox County. Beyond the local level, Susan was a pioneer in the Illinois State Federation of Colored Woman's Clubs. As all of these activities indicate, Allen advocated for the advancement and betterment of African Americans throughout her life. Susan Cannon Allen died in 1935; her social and political work influenced the history of Black women suffragists as well as the formation of the African American communities in Western Illinois.


Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay. The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. New York: Hall, 1997. [LINK]

Davis, Elizabeth L. Lifting As They Climb. New York: G.K. Hall, 1997. [LINK]

Hendricks, Wanda. Gender, Race, and Politics in the Midwest: Black Club Women in Illinois. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Knox county. "Mrs. Susan Allen Obituary." Illinois Ancestors. Accessed April 16, 2018.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs

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