Mary C. Beasley Byron Clarke


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mary C. Beasley Byron Clarke, 1883-1949

By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian

African American suffragist and club woman Mary C. Byron was born on March 9, 1883, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Robert Beasley and Louisa C. (Jackson) Beasley. Around 1904 she married musician Frank Byron. In 1910 they were living in Chicago, Illinois. Apparently, he died or they divorced, because she married architect Ernest Edmond Clarke on April 26, 1919, in Chicago. She had no children with either husband.

In 1914 Mary C. Byron was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Ida B. Wells-Barnett sent Byron to Missouri to organize suffrage groups among the African American women. Byron also belonged to the Negro Woman's Civic League of Chicago's Sixth Ward. She hosted an evening meeting at her home, where Heloise Wynne spoke on “Bond Issues.” Clarke served as president of the Colored Women's Auxiliary to the Emergency League of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association. This organization invited “public spirited women” to work for full franchise and to meet the emergency needs of their race.

In addition to her suffrage and club work, Mary C. Byron Clarke worked as a social worker in Chicago's juvenile court. By 1918 she had her own real estate business listed as “Mary C. Byron-Clarke.” The May 22, 1918 issue of the Chicago Tribune not only mentioned her workin real estate but that she was “connected” to the Turner Memorial African Methodist Episcopal church in Chicago.

In 1929 Mary C. Clarke was president of the Illinois Women's Republican League. She followed in the footsteps of her father who was active in the Republican Party. Reportedly she was the first African American woman to seek a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. The previous year African American William J. Warfield won a seat. Running on a platform in favor of “permanent registration, a standard wage for domestic help, protection of women in industry, and a state school board,” Clarke again ran for a seat in the Illinois House in 1936. She came in fifth in the primary race with 4,162 votes. In 1942 she was on the ballot running for Cook County commissioner. Two years later Clarke sought a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives as a delegate from the Fifth District. She received 3,485 votes, the leading Republican contender received 22,641 votes.

Apparently, Mary C. Byron Clarke backed away from politics following her loss in 1944. At age sixty, she probably returned to being a housewife. She died on July 23, 1949 in Chicago, survived by her second husband.


Ancestry. com: death record for Mary C. Byron Clarke, July 23, 1949; U.S. Federal Census, 1900, St. Louis, Missouri; U.S. Federal Census, 1910, Chicago, Ward 7; U.S. Federal Census, 1920, Chicago, Ward 3, Cook County, Illinois. U.S. Federal Census, 1930 and 1940, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1920; Ernest Clarke's WWII Draft Registration Card.

Crisis 9:1 (November 1914), 10.

Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), 20 May 1914.

Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, Utah), 13 October 1917.

Maureen A. Flanagan, Seeing with Their Hearts: Chicago Women and the Vision of the Good City, 1871-1933 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).

Black's Blue Book: Business and Professional Directory: A Compilation of Names, Addresses and Telephones of All Chicago's Colored Business and Professional People (Chicago: Ford S. Black, 1918).

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), 22 May 1918.

St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 14 June 1898.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), 14 November 1929, 5 April 1936, 14 April 1942, and July 25, 1949.

Dispatch (Moline, IL), 14 November 1929.

St. Louis Star and Times (St. Louis, MO), 14 November 1929.

Daily Chronicle (De Kalb, IL), 24 March 1944.

Edward J. Hughes, comp., Official Vote of the State of Illinois Cast At the General Election, November 3, 1936 and the Primary Elections, General Primary and Presidential Preferences, April 14, 1936 [Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Journal Co, 1936].

Edward J. Barrett, comp., Official Vote of the State of Illinois Cast At the General Election, November 7, 1944 and the Primary Elections, April 11, 1944 [Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Journal Co, 1944].

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