Sue M. Wilson Brown

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Sue M. Wilson Brown, 1877-1941

By Danielle Hoskins, PhD Candidate, University of Iowa

Sue M. Brown
in Who's Who in Colored America
(New York, NY: Who's Who in Colored America Corp., 1927)

Sue M. Wilson Brown was born in 1877 in Staunton, Virginia to Jacob and Maria (Harris) Wilson. Her parents moved the family to Iowa to work in the coal mines near Buxton in Mahaska County, Iowa. After graduating from Oskaloosa High School, she met S. Joe Brown, a lawyer in Buxton. They married in 1902 and moved to Des Moines. Brown joined the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs soon after arriving in Des Moines, and through their affiliation, developed regional and national contacts with the National Association of Colored Women. A skilled organizer, Brown quickly established herself as one of the most energetic and prolific clubwomen and reform activists in Iowa in the early twentieth century, founding the Des Moines Intellectual Improvement Club, the Mary B. Talbert Club, and the Colored Red Cross Auxiliary, and editing the Iowa Colored Woman, the official publication of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women.

Brown was a passionate supporter of improving the political, economic and social status of African American communities at all levels. It was this passion that led her to champion the recruitment of migrants to Iowa’s African American communities, and to pursue the integration of the Des Moines YWCA. She was a pioneer in developing positive race relations among religious and civic groups, serving as president of the first Interracial Commission on Civil Rights in Iowa. In 1915, she became a charter member of the Des Moines branch of the NAACP, and she would later become one of the first women nationally to serve as a president of an NAACP branch (1924-1931). While state chairman of the Iowa Association of Colored Women in 1919, she spearheaded the project establishing the first dormitory for African American female students at the University of Iowa, which was renamed Sue Brown Hall in 1934.

An ardent suffragist, Brown founded the Des Moines League of Colored Women Voters in 1912 and the Des Moines Mary Church Terrell Club. She frequently worked with the Polk County Suffrage Association in her capacity as president of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women from 1915-1917, distributing suffrage literature and buttons, marching in parades, and speaking at Association meetings. An interest in politics led her to work with the Republican Party of Iowa, where she served as the first vice president of the National League of Republican Colored Women and as chairman of the Polk County Republican Committee.

Brown remained active with the National Association of Colored Women throughout her lifetime. In honor of her club work, the Des Moines chapter of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs was renamed the Sue M. Brown Federated Women’s Club. Through the NACW, Brown extended her activities outside of Iowa and became involved with the International Council of Women, serving as its parliamentarian in 1923.

In addition to her reform work, Brown was heavily involved in the Order of the Eastern Star, and in 1922 was elected Matron of the International Conference of Grand Chapters of O.E.S., the highest office within that organization. She wrote The History of the Order of the Eastern Star among Colored People in 1925.

Brown died in Des Moines in 1941, and her funeral was one of the largest ever held at St. Paul AME church. She was inducted posthumously to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.


“As the climax of a busy and highly satisfactory election day campaign…” The Bystander, Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, April 7, 1916.

“From ‘Who’s Who in Colored America,’ we Quote the Following: Mrs. Sue M. Brown.” In Lifting as They Climb, by Elizabeth Lindsay Davis. (Washington, DC: National Association of Colored Women, 1933), 198.

Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame Records, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Lufkin, Jack. “Brown, Sue M.” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. “Sue M. Wilson Brown,” Notable Black American Women, Book 2. (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1996), 67-69.


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