Biographical Database of African American Suffragists

Biography of Mary E. Taylor, 1858-1918

By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware

Listed as "Mary Taylor" in the founding materials for the Wilmington, Delaware Equal Suffrage Study Club, and as "Mary Ellen Taylor" in other sources, Mary Taylor was born in Virginia around 1858. Some documents give her birth year as 1853; others as 1856. The 1858 date derives from her 1918 death certificate. By 1870, she was living and working as a domestic in Washington, D.C., along with members of her family, including her sister, Adelia (Delia) Taylor Williams and brother-in-law John S. Williams, a waiter in a hotel.

Mary Taylor's move to Wilmington, Delaware, was likely precipitated by that of her niece, Caroline B. Williams, a teacher who in 1898 took up a position teaching geography at the Howard School, the only school offering a full K-12 program for African American students in the city, and indeed the entire state. The 1900 census found Mary Taylor running a boarding house in rented quarters at 916 French Street, an address that would later become well known as the home of the noted writer, poet, teacher, and suffragist, Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar (after 1916, Dunbar-Nelson). Caroline Williams boarded with her aunt, as did two other Wilmington teachers, Flora H. Woodson and Martha V. West. Nearby lived Caroline Williams's sister, Adelaide Williams Edmonds Corbin, her husband, and their six children. In 1909, the aunt and niece moved a short distance to a house that Caroline Williams had purchased at 202 East 10th Street. Thereafter, Mary Taylor earned her living as a housekeeper, likely to the group of teachers who boarded at the address.

Her most visible foray into suffrage activism came in March, 1914 when she joined Caroline B. Williams and a group of friends and neighbors in forming the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Study Club. The founding meeting was held at the home of Emma Belle Gibson Sykes, who, before her 1911 marriage, had been one of the Williams-Taylor family's boarders. Now, Emma Sykes was living at 208 East 10th Street, just down the street. During the evening, those present heard from Mrs. Sykes, Alice G. Baldwin, Bessie Spence Dorrell and others who "spoke enthusiastically" about the club's purpose and promise. The group elected officers to lead them, headed by Alice Dunbar (president), Emma Sykes (vice-president), Bessie Dorrell (secretary), and Fannie Hamilton (treasurer). Thereafter, they met twice a month for conversation and lectures on "questions of municipal, state, national, and international interest." In May, 1914, led by Blanche W. Stubbs, the group marched, in a separate contingent, in Wilmington's first suffrage parade.

After 1914, Mary Taylor's involvement in the suffrage club is difficult to trace, perhaps because of declining health. Among those who attended to her during her final illness were her nieces Caroline Williams and Adelaide Williams Edmonds Corbin, along with another Williams sister, Elizabeth Williams Tyler, a public health nurse who had recently joined the Williams-Taylor household. Mary Taylor died of ovarian cancer in a Philadelphia hospital in July, 1918. Her funeral was held from the East 10th Street house; she was buried in Washington, D.C.


The available scant information on Mary Ellen Taylor can be found in censuses, city directories, and a death record; see and See also the death and burial notice in the Wilmington Evening Journal, July 27, 1918, p. 2.

On the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Study Club, see "Suffrage Study Club," Wilmington Every Evening, March 21, 1914, p.12; and "Ex-Senator Washburn to Talk on Suffrage," Wilmington Sunday Morning [Delmarvia] Star, June 7, 1914, p.14.

On other members of the Suffrage Study Club, see the biographies published on Women and Social Movements. For a profile of her niece, Elizabeth Williams Tyler, see Adah B. Thomas, Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses (New York: Kay Printing House, 1929), 40-44. On her other two nieces, see "Ex-Howard High teacher, Miss Williams, dies at 96," Wilmington Morning News, December 21, 1971, p. 41.

For context on Wilmington's African American community, see Annette Woolard-Provine, Integrating Delaware: The Reddings of Wilmington (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003).


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