Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Willa Henry, 1872-1936


By, Eleanor Raab, Mia Shenk, Kailey Wachhorst, Gina Cassar, Cami Steppe and Sophie Amid-Hozour, students, and Pat Roberts and Serene Williams, teachers at Sacred Heart Preparatory, Atherton, California

President, California Civic League

Willa Henry was an African American women’s rights activist engaged in a wide variety of political causes. She was born in Missouri in 1872. It was noted in the 1920 census that she was married to Frank B. Henry.

Willa Henry’s activism goes back to the very early 20th century. In 1900, she joined the Fannie Jackson Coppin Club that was organized the previous year by local East Bay women in northern California. As one of the earliest members of the first cultural and social club for African American women in California, Willa Henry significantly contributed to the promotion of women’s rights, particularly working to expand economic and political opportunities for women of color. The Fannie Jackson Coppin Club provided women of color with a platform to display their talents and support one another in a variety of ways. Henry served as the Parliamentarian of this organization in 1915 and worked with notable East Bay women’s rights activists such as Hettie B. Tilghman.

Henry advocated for women’s rights through a variety of organizations. In 1920 Willa Henry helped establish a YWCA club on Linden Street. This was a result of her involvement with the Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters. It was in this organization that she continued to work alongside Hettie B. Tilghman. Scholar Venise Wagner has noted that the Linden Street YWCA aimed to bridge the gap of communication between women of different racial backgrounds. This league was influential in providing women of color with a platform for vocational training, adult education, counseling and referral, recreation for young girls, and musical and cultural events. In addition, Henry served as president of the California Civic League for eight years, where she promoted women’s right to vote. Both of these organization provided Henry and all of their members with the ability to advocate for women’s rights and empower themselves through a variety of services. Henry and her fellow Civic League members worked to secure women’s right to vote based on the belief that it is the natural right of all people, including women, to have a voice in the issues of the nation and be able to exercise this right with intelligence and responsibility.

In 1933 Willa served as a delegate at a meeting of the California State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs that was held in Oakland. She died in 1936 in Alameda, California. After her death, she was honored for her contributions with a memorial at an event held by the California State Federation of Women’s Clubs on October 4, 1936.


1. 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), 82.

2. California, Death Index, 1905-1939

3. Delilah L. Beasley, “Activities Among the Negroes,” Oakland Tribune, October 29, 1933.

4. Oakland Sunshine, 13:11 (August 28, 1915), Ed. 1.

5. Lena M. Wysinger, “Activities Among Negroes,” Oakland Tribune, October 4, 1936.


Related Writings in Database

View works about


back to top