Sarah Dudley Pettey

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Sarah Dudley Pettey, 1869-1906

By Professor Eileen V. Wallis, Cal Poly Pomona (



Sarah Dudley Pettey
Twentieth Century Negro Literature, ed. by D.W. Culp and J.L. Nichols, p. 183, published 1902.

Born in New Bern, North Carolina, Sarah Dudley was the daughter of Edward Richard and Caroline Dudley. Sarah was born in 1869, the first member of her family to be born in freedom. There would eventually be eight children in the family, two boys and six girls. After the Civil War her father, Edward, served for many years in the North Carolina State Legislature.

Sarah attended the New Bern Public Schools; the New Bern State Colored Normal School; and the Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina. Scotia Seminary was a Presbyterian school for women with a biracial faculty. Scotia emphasized academics alongside teaching the cultural refinements expected of ladies at that time. Dudley’s roommate at Scotia was Lula Pickenpack of Charlotte, who was shortly to marry Charles Calvin Pettey, a minister in the African Methodist Episicopal (AME) Zion Church. Charles Pettey soon became an elder in the church and helped establish the official newspaper of the AME Zion Church, the Star of Zion. His work with the church took him all over the United States.

In 1883 Sarah Dudley returned to New Bern to teach. After one year she was promoted to assistant principal, serving in that capacity for six years. She then worked for two years as an assistant professor in the County Teacher’s Normal Institute. Dudley ultimately left teaching upon her marriage.

Lula Pickenpack Pettey died in 1887. By now a bishop, Charles Pettey in 1888 reunited with Sarah Dudley during a trip to North Carolina. In 1889 the couple married. Their honeymoon took them all over the United States, Canada, and Europe. They settled in New Bern. Together Charles Pettey and Sarah Dudley Pettey raised seven children: Petteys’ two daughters from his first marriage and five children of their own.

The Petteys were one of many successful, middle-class black families in late nineteenth century North Carolina. New Bern, in particular, had many prominent black leaders and businessmen.

Although based in North Carolina, Charles Pettey also served as bishop for Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana. Dudley Pettey frequently traveled with her husband. She often followed her husband’s sermons with her own speeches on a range of social issues: education, race, women’s rights, and suffrage were among her favorite topics. Some members of AME Zion were uncomfortable with a woman taking on such a prominent role, but Charles remained his wife’s most steadfast supporter. She wrote a bimonthly column in the Star of Zion. Dudley Pettey was also active in the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1896 on.

Although both Dudley Pettey and her husband were staunch believers in progress, they saw rise of Jim Crow in North Carolina during their lifetimes. An anti-black race riot in Wilmington, N.C. in 1898 killed ten black community leaders. By 1900 the state legislature has disenfranchised black men and public facilities across the state were increasingly segregated.

Charles Pettey died in 1900. Sarah Dudley Pettey died at the age of thirty-seven in 1906.


Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, “Gender and Jim Crow: Sarah Dudley Pettey's Vision of the New South,” North Carolina Historical Review, 68:3 (July 1991), pp. 261-85.

Monroe A. Majors, “Mrs. Sarah E.C. Dudley Pettey” in Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and Activities (Chicago: Donohue and Henneberry, 1893).

See also sketch by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore in Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Darlene Clark Hine et al., eds. (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1993), 2:918.

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