Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Lena M. Johnson, 1870-?

By Elizabeth Kronbeck, Professor, Glendale (CA) Community College

Lena Johnson, born in New York state in 1870, was an active member in the Household of Ruth for New York State. The Household of Ruth was the sister affiliate of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. In 1915, these organizations held a Statewide Convention in Poughkeepsie, New York at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. At this convention, the women voted to support the New York Suffrage resolution. The members argued that “the women of our race are largely wage earners in industry and their labor needs the protection of the ballot.” The women also agreed to authorize Lena M. Johnson their District Grand Most Noble Governor, to send their resolution to the Woman Suffrage Party of New York. Because of these efforts, the New York State Referendum included Black women. The New York referendum passed in 1917, the same year that W.E.B Du Bois had encouraged black men to support the state bill.

1917 is also the year that Mrs. Johnson seems to have done the most travelling in her capacity as the District Grand Most Noble Governor. Records show that she travelled most of Western New York (Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Binghamton) conducting business for the House of Ruth.

In 1919 she was re-elected to the post of District Grand Most Noble Governor and this year, she seemed to spend a lot of time in Syracuse (one trip was four months!). It should be no surprise then that the 1920 Census finds Mrs. Johnson in Onondaga, Syracuse City, New York. In February of 1925 her civic duties were expanded when she was elected President of the Colored Community Center. This was followed up in August with yet, another re-election for the District Grand Most Noble Governor.

Mrs. Lena M. Johnson, married Willis Johnson in 1889, and by the 1910 census, the couple had 5 living children.

1910 United States Federal Census

Name: Jena Johnson
Age in 1910: 40
Birth Year: 1870
Birthplace: New York
Home in 1910: Auburn Ward 9, Cayuga, New York
Street: Parker Street
House Number: 27
Race: Black
Gender: Male
Relation to Head of House: Head
Marital Status: Married
Father's Birthplace: Virginia
Mother's Birthplace: New York
Native Tongue: English
Home Owned or Rented: Own
Home Free or Mortgaged: Free
Farm or House: House
Able to read: Yes
Able to Write: Yes
Years Married: 21
Number of Children Born: 6
Number of Children Living: 5
Household Members: Name Age
  Jena Johnson --40
  Jene Cooper --21


Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998)

New York Age, Feb 14, 1925, p. 8; Aug 15, 1925, p. 2; Aug 16, 1919, p. 2; Mar 25, 1915, p. 3.

1910 Federal manuscript census, Auburn, N.Y. accessed through HeritageQuest Online, New York State Library, Albany, N.Y.

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