Susie Estella Palmer Hamilton


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Mrs. Susie Estella Palmer Hamilton, 1862-1942


By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

Mrs. S. E. Hamilton, one of the founders of the Wilmington, Delaware, Equal Suffrage Study Club, was born Susie Estella Palmer in Talbot County, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, in 1862. Her parents were free-born farmers, married before the Civil War, and by 1870 in possession of a farm worth $600, property that remained in the family throughout the difficult decades after Reconstruction. Although census takers listed both parents, Wesley Palmer and Charlotte Richardson Palmer, as illiterate, Susie attended elementary school and her youngest sibling (of seven) had a high school education. By 1880, Susie and her older sister Amelia (Millie) Palmer were living with relatives in Baltimore, working as cooks in a saloon/restaurant run by a cousin.

When Amelia Palmer married John Griffin and moved to Wilmington, Delaware, around 1882, Susie followed. There, on March 31, 1886, Susie married Snowden Francis Hamilton at Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church, a storied institution that traced its history as an independent church for African Americans back to 1813, when Peter Spencer organized African Union Methodists into an independent ecclesiastical body. Like his wife, Snowden Hamilton was a Marylander; like her, he had grown up working on a family farm. At the time of their marriage, Snowden Hamilton had been living in Wilmington for at least six years, working as a driver for a local wholesale grocery business. He later became the steward and cook for W.N. Bannard, superintendent of the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington Railroad (part of the Pennsylvania Railroad). Susie Hamilton contributed to the family economy by working as a cook.

The couple gained a foothold in Wilmington's small African American middle class by three routes: two incomes, property ownership, and community service. In 1891, they purchased a house at 916 Wilson Street on the city's East Side, down the block from Susie's sister, Amelia Palmer Griffin, her husband John Griffin, and their children. The house became the Hamiltons' home for their lifetimes. An inventory completed after Susie's death revealed a comfortably furnished dwelling containing--beyond basic necessities--a piano, a writing desk, and a sewing machine, along with living and dining room suites, china, and a china cabinet. From Wilson Street, it was a short walk to Ezion Church, their spiritual home, at 846 French Street, where Snowden served as a trustee and Susie often appeared on church committees for musical programs and fund-raising activities. When the 56th Annual Conference of the African Union Methodist Protestant Church convened in segregated Wilmington in 1919, Susie Hamilton hosted and housed visiting ministers. Later that year, she attended a centennial church gathering in Columbus, Ohio. Susie Hamilton also engaged in fund-raising for the Sarah Ann White Home for Aged Colored Persons, located nearby at 822 French Street.

Susie Palmer Hamilton's political activism encompassed her involvement as a founder of the Equal Suffrage Study Club in March 1914 and her membership in the Wilmington branch of the NAACP. Her co-workers in those endeavors included women with whom she worked as a volunteer at the Sarah Ann White home, such as Emma Belle Gibson Sykes, who hosted the first meeting of the Equal Suffrage Study Club and served as the club's founding vice-president. The other officers were Alice M. Dunbar (later Dunbar-Nelson), president; Susie's friend Bessie Spence Dorrell, secretary; and Fannie Hopkins Hamilton (no known relation), treasurer. In May, 1914, led by Blanche Williams Stubbs, the Equal Suffrage Study Club's members marched, in a separate contingent, in Wilmington's first big suffrage parade. Susie Hamilton joined the NAACP in 1915, soon after the Wilmington branch's founding, and remained a member until at least 1917.

Delaware did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, but once national woman suffrage had been won in August, 1920, the members of the Equal Suffrage Study Club, spurred by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, immediately undertook a campaign to help register African American women voters and encourage them to turn out in the 1920 elections. Susie Hamilton registered and in 1928, when a local registrar attempted to remove her from the list of eligible voters, she promptly appealed and had her voting rights reinstated.

After Snowden Hamilton's death in August, 1935, Susie Hamilton stayed on in the home they had shared, taking in a married couple as boarders. She remained close to her Griffin niece and nephew and their families, who had moved to Darby, Pennsylvania, about twenty miles from Wilmington. They cared for her during her final illness. In March, 1942, she died of pancreatic cancer in a Philadelphia hospital and was buried in Wilmington's historic Mount Olive cemetery alongside her late husband. Her estate, valued at a little over $2,000, including the house and furnishings at 916 Wilson Street, went to Palmer Griffin and Lillian Griffin Hall, the surviving children of her late sister Amelia Palmer Griffin.


Genealogical information on the Palmer, Hamilton, and Griffin families can be traced through censuses, city directories, and vital records available on and In some census listings, the Palmer family name appears as "Parmer." Delaware property transactions, available on, include a purchase record for 916 Wilson Street and an indenture reflecting Snowden Hamilton's role as a church trustee. Probate documents for Snowden Hamilton (Will #15785, probated in 1935) and Susie Hamilton (Petition #23055, 1942) are at the New Castle County Register of Wills Office, Wilmington, Delaware. A death notice appeared in the Wilmington Journal-Every Evening March 30, 1942, p. 19.

Regional African American newspapers, especially the New York Freeman and Philadelphia Tribune, and local Wilmington newspapers provide useful information on Susie Palmer Hamilton's life and activism. See in particular "Result of Tag Day," Wilmington Morning Journal, May 1, 1909, p. 2; "Ezion League in Musical," Wilmington Evening Journal, May 6, 1913; "Suffrage Study Club," Wilmington Every Evening, March 21, 1914, p. 12; and "Church Conference," Morning News, April 5, 1919, pp. 14, 16. For her membership in the Wilmington branch of the NAACP, see NAACP Papers, microfilm edition, Part 12: Selected Branch Files, 1913-1939; Part B: The Northeast, Reel #1.

Secondary sources providing useful context include: American National Biography, s.v. "Spencer, Peter"; Constance J. Cooper and Lewis V. Baldwin, Forging Faith, Building Freedom: African American Faith Experiences in Delaware, 1800-1980 (Dover: Delaware Heritage Press for the Delaware Historical Society, 2015); and Annette Woolard-Provine, Integrating Delaware: The Reddings of Wilmington (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003).


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