Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Kizziah J. Bills, 1860-1924

By Brandy Thomas Wells, Department of History, Oklahoma State University

Kizziah Jones Bills was the third of nine children of Poindexter and Patsey [Hendricks] Jones. Like her mother, she was born in Florence, Alabama (January 19, 1860 or 1862)Throughout her lifetime, Bills Jones recorded her birth year as 1862. On her death certificate when the full date along with fuller details were provided by her son, Dr. Andrew H. Stith, her birth year was recorded as 1860.. Sometime later, the family returned to Davidson County, Tennessee. There, they resided in a small cabin, which was frequently visited by the Ku Klux Klan. On one occasion, Kizziah recalled her father's calm disposition when Klan members demanded that he surrender his gun. Though the men were hooded, Kizziah explained that her father knew by their voices that many were related to his former owner.

In her teen years, Kizziah found work as a seamstress--a career she maintained throughout her lifetime. In her early twenties, she married Dr. Nathan J. Stith of Mississippi. In 1886, he graduated from Central Tennessee College in Nashville and became a physician in the local area. In August 1889, the two welcomed the birth of their son, Andrew Haydn Stith. Shortly thereafter tragedy struck and Kizzie (as she began to spell her name) became a widow. In 1891 and 1892, she served as a teacher at Meigs School, a segregated public school in Nashville.

The following year, Kizzie wed Satto Bills of Tennessee. The couple likely migrated to Chicago in 1893. While she worked as a dressmaker, Satto continued to labor as a cook before turning to work as a railroad corker. Kizzie's life also became fuller as she participated in early Black women's clubs in Chicago. She became an early member of the Ida B. Wells Club and the first president of the Julia Gaston Club, a philanthropic women's organization in Evanston, Illinois in November 1898. In Illinois, these pioneer clubs were part of the “Magic Seven.”

When Kizzie became a widow again in 1901, her voluntary activism took on new heights. In 1905, she served as the president of the Civic League. She was also a member of the Grand Foundation United Order of True Reformers, a Black fraternal organization that endeavored to uplift African Americans in part by creating employment opportunities for youth. She served as the recording secretary of the Tennesseans, an organized group of migrants who met twice a month for mutual aid and entertainment. In 1913, Kizzie informed the Black press that she was in discussions with the Metropolitan Insurance Company concerning not only her own treatment, but also wider accusations of discrimination faced by Black policy holders and applicants.

This same year, Kizzie became an early member of the Alpha Suffrage Club, which is believed to be the first suffrage organization among African American women. Founded in 1913, by Ida B. Wells Barnett and White suffragist, Belle Squire, the Alpha Suffrage Club met weekly to study politics, to educate African Americans on elections, and to agitate for women's national suffrage. At the club's first annual banquet, Kizzie read a paper on political conditions and offered instruction on immediate efforts. She also served the club as the editor of the club organ, The Alpha Suffrage Record, which first appeared in March 1914. In August and September 1930, she served as the writer of the “Clubs and Society” segment of the newspaper. She urged African Americans throughout Chicago to join the movement for association, which included creating women's suffrage clubs.

On December 28, 1914, Ferdinand Barnett invited Kizzie, whom he considered one of Chicago's prominent Black leaders, to a committee meeting at the Douglass Center. There, they met with the three African Americans candidates vying for the position as alderman. In seeking resolution concerning the split vote, Kizzie urged candidates to agree to a pre-primary election with the suggestion that the winner of the Second Ward vote could be declared the choice of African Americans in the regular primary. In the end, all three candidates refused and the committee stepped aside. The Alpha Suffrage Club gave its support Oscar De Priest and aided him in becoming the first African American alderman in the city. In the years ahead, the club continued to expand its efforts and to grow in popularity.

At several points from 1910 through 1915, Kizzie served as a special correspondent to the Chicago Defender, often writing with the shortened name “Mrs. K.J. Bills.” In June 1910, her account of Jim Crow railroad travel in Chicago appeared on the front cover. She informed readers that her investigation of racial discrimination revealed that Jim Crow cars both came into and out of the city and that segregation markers throughout the station were not haphazardly placed, but rather intentionally “hung up in nice brass brackets, nicely painted, [and] artistically arranged.” Kizzie also brazenly wrote of her travel in a “Whites Only” car to Vincennes. Expecting similar courage from others, she called on Black men and women alike to take up protest and mutual association.

Kizzie's most famous contribution is her piece on the premiere of the “Birth of a Nation” in Chicago. In September 1915, the film screened at local theaters despite mayoral promises and intense African American protest. Kizzie decided that she would see the film so that she could criticize it intelligently. Remarkably, she managed to save the bulk of her criticism for the latter half. In challenging the images of overly sexualized Black men and a supposedly meek Black population in the face of a towering White South, Kizzie called upon her experiences growing up in the Reconstruction South to assure readers of her position.

After this article, Kizzie's name appeared a few more times in the Black Chicago press, though less as a prominent Chicago clubwoman. Later inclusions show that she continued her involvement in voluntary activities including endeavors involving young men and women. As a resident of the Wendell Phillips settlement, she offered crochet, boys' club activities, and weekly choral classes. In 1920, she resided with her son and his family. Andrew worked as dentist and his wife assisted him in the office. Kizzie continued to take in work as a private dressmaker. On February 24, 1924, she died after a short bout of illness.


Census Records:

  • Patsey Jones; p. 194 [handwritten], line 1, Enumeration District 73, Thirteen District, Davidson County, Tennessee Census of Population; Tenth Census of the United States, 1880 (NARA microfilm publication Series T9). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  • Sator Bells; p. 194 [handwritten], line 91, Enumeration District 0085, Chicago, Ward 4, Cook, Illinois; Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.
  • Sallie [Patsey] Jones; p. 11B [handwritten], line 53, Enumeration District 0238, Chicago Ward 3, Cook Illinois; Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. FHL Microfilm: 1374256.

Newspaper Articles:

  • “Untitled,” Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) January 25, 1913, p. 4.
  • “Clubs and Societe: The Alpha Suffrage Club,” Chicago Defender, August 23, 1913, p. 2
  • “Alpha Suffrage Club Banquet,” Chicago Defender, November 22, 1913, 4.
  • “The Chaperon's Chatter,” Broad Axe (Chicago, Illinois), July 11, 1914, p. 2;
  • “Tennesseeans Honor Original Jubilee Singer: Mrs. Eliza Walker Crump,” Chicago Defender, December 18, 1915, p. 5.
  • “Society,” ChicagoDefender, October 21, 1916, p. 6.
  • “Society,” Chicago Defender, March 31, 1917, p. 5.
  • Mrs. K.J. Bills, “Jim Crow Cars Running Out of Chicago Depot,” Chicago Defender, June 11, 1910, p. 1.
  • Mrs. K.J. Bills, “Women Best Fitted for Evangelists,” Chicago Defender, December 5, 1914, p. 3.
  • Mrs. K.J. Bills, “The Great Fuss Over Leo Frank,” Chicago Defender, June 26, 1915, p. 5.
  • Mrs. K.J. Bills “Facts about Birth of a Nation Play at the Colonial,” Chicago Defender, September 11, 1915, p. 3.

City Directories:

  • Nashville, Tennessee City Directory, 1891 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1885), p. 101.
  • Nashville, Tennessee City Directory, 1891 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1886), p. 163.
  • Dow's City Directory of Memphis for 1889 (Memphis: Harlow Dow, 1889), p. 723.
  • Nashville, Tennessee City Directory, 1891 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1891), p. 827
  • Nashville, Tennessee City Directory, 1892 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1892), p. 850.
  • The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago, 1896 (Chicago: The LakeSide Press and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1896), p. 256.
  • The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago, 1901 (Chicago: The LakeSide Press and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1896), p. 265.
  • D.A. Bethea, Colored People's Blue-Book and Business Directory of Chicago, IL (Chicago: Celebrity Publishing, 1905), p. 71-75 and 90.


    Other sources:

    • Catalogue of the Central Tennessee College, 1890 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1890): 56.
    • Death Certificate for Kizzie Jones Stith, 16 February 1924, File Number 6004592, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Clerk Genealogy Records. Cook County Clerk's Office, Chicago: Il: Cook County Clerk, 2008.
    • Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs ([Chicago]: [publisher not identified], 1922), p. 2 and 16.
    • “The Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Alpha Suffrage Record 1: No. 1 (March 18, 1914), p. 1, Box 8 Folder 9, University of Chicago Online Archives of Ida B. Wells Papers 1884-1976 at


      Secondary Sources:

      • Anna Everett, Returning The Gaze: A Genealogy Of Black Film Criticism, 1909-1949 (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2001), 90-91.
      • Jodi Rightler-McDaniels, and Lori Amber Roessner, Political Pioneer of The Press: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her Transnational Crusade for Social Justice (Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 2018), 70-72,
      • Margaret Garb, Freedom's Ballot: African American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 211-12.
      • Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American women in the struggle for the vote, 1850-1920. (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1999), 99.
      • Wanda A. Hendricks, Gender, Race, and Politics in the Midwest: Black Club Women in Illinois (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 89.

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