Naomi Sewell Richardson


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Naomi Sewell Richardson, 1892-1993


By Tabitha Carson, Yasmine Northern, Perrye Rollins, Lauryn Bowler, Skylar Parker, and Lundyn Davis, undergraduate students, Howard University
Professor Amy Yeboah

Naomi Sewell was born on September 24, 1892 in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania to Perry W. Sewell and Florence Snowden Sewell, the youngest of three children. The Sewell family moved from Pennsylvania, to Baltimore, to South Carolina, back to Baltimore, and finally ended up in Washingtonville, New York where Naomi Sewell Richardson, after spending her own life elsewhere, returned to and live near the end of her life.

The Sewell family moved around to follow the work of Richardson's father, who started as a theology student at Lincoln University, then accepted a position in the Theology Department at Hobson College, and finally Minister of the Presbyterian Mission in Washingtonville in 1901. Richardson was educated in a segregated school system throughout the early stages of her life, both in Baltimore and Washingtonville. Her biography offers several examples of the discrimination she encountered in her schooling, but she was the first African American student to graduate from Washingtonville high school in 1910.

Naomi Sewell attended Howard University, a Historically Black University in Washington, DC, in the fall of 1910. She recalls the strict rules of Howard including no smoking, separation of housing for men and women, upperclassmen housing away from freshmen and sophomores, drinking, and being out past curfew, etc. In spite of the rules, Howard students still had fun. Fun wasn't her main concern because she knew that she was sent to Howard by her parents to get an education. During her time at Howard, she and 21 other women made history through the founding of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. After founding the Sorority, each soror went off into her respective community in order to serve and give back in as many ways as possible. Their first public act as a sorority occurred in March 1913 with the Women's Suffrage March in Washington D.C. Sewell also met her husband, Clarence Richardson, a liberal arts student, while attending Howard University.

After Howard, Sewell taught elementary school in East St. Louis, Illinois. She began her teaching career in 1914, following her graduation from Howard University, and was passionate about her role in the classroom. The school she taught at was segregated, yet she did not let that stop her or deter her dedication. After enduring the East St. Louis race riots in 1917, she moved to Princeton, New Jersey to teach. This school was also segregated, and she became an advocate for the fair and equal treatment of the African American teachers and faculty. She petitioned for the African American teachers to have their own bathroom facilities, a goal that was successfully met.

In 1920, Naomi Sewell married Clarence Richardson at her father's church in Washingtonville, New York. Following the wedding, the couple moved to New York City. Richardson began substitute teaching and her husband was a post office employee. The Richardsons were married for 27 years and were the parents of Gloria Clark, their foster child. Although Gloria was not biologically their child, they loved her very much and were able to put her through nursing school. Upon her husband's passing, Richardson returned back to her home in Washingtonville. She lived with her mother and brother, who passed away in 1951 and 1988 respectively.

Even later in life, Naomi Sewell Richardson was very active in her community and sorority. Although Richardson was known for living quietly, she was admired for her work with extreme activism and civic service. She spoke at sorority gatherings on many occasions and even received a stipend from the national office to help with her health and living costs.

Beginning in 1947, Naomi Sewell Richardson and her mother moved to Washingtonville, where they lived with Naomi's brother Albert. After her mother passed, Naomi cared for her brother and passed away at the age of 100, on August 5, 1993. She was the last living founder of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and continued to participate in the Mid-Hudson Valley chapter of the sorority in her later years. Her alumnae chapter organized 90th and 100th birthday celebrations for her. Over 100 of her sorority sisters attended her funeral. A book titled A Life of Quiet Dignity was written about her life and legacy.


Alice Jefferson Marshall et al., A Life of Quiet Dignity: Naomi Sewell Richardson (New York: Red Elephant Publishers, 1995).

Matthew Thorenz, "Blooming Grove's African American heritage, Part 3: A Life of Quiet Dignity," Feb. 23, 1917, accessible online at

List of Delta Sigma Theta sisters," accessible online at

"22 Founders," accessible online at


Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about


back to top