Hettie Blonde Tilghman

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Hettie Blonde Tilghman, 1871-1933

By Pat Roberts, Teacher; Maia Granoski, Jack Pleasants, Eleanor Raab, Sabine Rizvi, Sinead Haley, Max Comolli, students at Sacred Heart Preparatory, Atherton, California

President, Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters

Hettie Blonde Tilghman was born to pioneers John and Rebecca Jones in 1871. She was the youngest of three daughters and was educated in San Francisco, where she lived until she was about fourteen years of age. At that time, her family relocated to Oakland, where she would remain for the rest of her life. An older sister, Emma Jones Chandler, was also active in the East Bay suffrage movement.

In 1890, she married Charles F. Tilghman and they moved in with his mother, Lucinda. At the time of her marriage, she was an organist and secretary of the Bethel A.M.E. Church of San Francisco. In addition to her involvement in the church, she ran a private language school out of her San Francisco home, where her parents were still living. It was in this home that she taught English to local Chinese students. Charles and Hettie Tilghman had two children, Hilda and Charles Francis, born in 1896 and 1897 respectively. Hettie retired from teaching shortly after Hilda's birth. After Charles and Hilda enrolled in school, Hettie became active in public life once again, participating in a variety of clubs and community building projects. She also served on the board of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People, which was opened in 1897 near Mills College. In 1917, she was elected president of the California State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, a post she held until 1919.

Hettie Tilghman had a lifelong commitment to service for the African-American community. Tilghman became the financial secretary for the Northern Federation of California Colored Women's Clubs after its creation in 1913. The Northern Federation was an organization composed of Northern California's many arts, education, and advancement clubs created by and for women of color. This organization was largely in response to the widespread exclusion of non-whites from existing groups. Tilghman worked closely with Fannie Wall, helping to accrue $1200 between 1914 to 1918 in order to open the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery in West Oakland - the only daycare and orphanage facility available to children of color in that area at the time. After the success of the first Children's Home in meeting the needs of lower-class children and families, Tilghman worked to launch and manage a "Colored" YWCA establishment, and contributed to the operation of a second children's care facility. This second facility was one that required significantly more capital to open so this is an impressive accomplishment. The YWCA served African-American members by providing academic and occupational training, as well as entertainment and special events for younger girls. The second location for the Children's Home was ultimately taken over by the Oakland Redevelopment Authority.

In the 1920s, Tilghman took on a major leadership role alongside African American women in the League of Women Voters (LWV), and was chosen to be president of the Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters. In both organizations, Tilghman advocated for laws that would address the unique needs of women and children. She was also elected president of the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery in the early 1920s. Around the same time she also took charge of the Oakland branch of the NAACP. Throughout the 1920s, she was active in the women's suffrage movement, and her political involvement continued until her death in Alameda in September 1933.


1)Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing 1993).

2)Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California (Los Angeles, CA: Times Mirror Print, 1919).

3)Mary Praetzellis & Adrian Praetzellis, "Black is Beautiful: From Porters to Panthers in West Oakland," accessed online at https://www.sonoma.edu/asc/cypress/finalreport/Chapter10.pdf (pg. 286 has a picture of Hettie).

4)Venise Wagner, "'Activities Among Negroes': Race Pride and a Call for Interracial Dialogue in California's East Bay Region, 1920-1931," Journalism History, 35, 2 (Summer 2009), p. 82.

5)"History of the California State Association of Colored Women," Published by California State Association of Colored Women's Clubs, Inc., 1953

6)Marta Gutman, A City for Children: Women, Architecture, and the Charitable Landscapes of Oakland 1850-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

7)Martha C. Taylor, From Labor to Reward: Black Church Beginnings in the San Francisco Bay Area (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016).

8)Ann Dexter Gordon and Bettye Collier-Thomas, eds., African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997).

9)The Western Outlook, Vol. 21, No. 41, Ed. 1 Saturday, July 3, 1915.

10)"Fanny J. Chopin Club" The Western Outlook, January 23, 1919.

11)Marta Gutman, Under Siege: Construction and Care at the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery, Working Paper No. 56, September 2002, accessed online at https://workfamily.sas.upenn.edu/sites/workfamily.sas.upenn.edu/files/imported/new/berkeley/papers/56.pdf)


(Retrieved: Praetzellis, Original: The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 1919)


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