Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Charlotte Bell, 1875-?

By Steven Kramer, teacher, Hockaday School, Dallas, TX

We have very little information about Charlotte Bell as a suffragist. Most of our evidence is that she was a member and officer of the Empire State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs from the time of its organization, and she attended conferences where suffrage was advocated. The Indianapolis Recorder of 24 July 1909 states that Bell was elected vice-president of the Federation at its first meeting in New York City. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 8 July 1909 stated that Bell lived in Brooklyn. The Federation apparently for the first time endorsed women's suffrage at its 1913 meeting in Buffalo. In addition to hearing Madame C.J. Walker urge women to “strike out along industrial lines,” the Federation “placed itself on record as being in favor of woman's suffrage. (New York Age, 10 July 1913) Bell attended the meeting, being listed as the chairman of the executive board. She apparently had moved to Governor's Island by this time. (Buffalo Courier, 6 July 1913) Bell, however, had heard an earlier speech sympathetic to woman's suffrage, given by Lydia Smith of the Colored Woman's Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn at the 1912 meeting of the Young Woman's Minute Club of the St. James Presbyterian Church; Bell addressed the crowd about the achievements of the National Association of Colored Women. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 17 August 1912) In 1914, Bell presided at the opening session of the Empire Federation; in the afternoon session, Miss Alice Carpenter and the Rev. L.O. Rotenbeck, both apparently white, spoke in favor of woman's suffrage. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 2 July 1914) As late as 1924, Bell was still involved in black women's organizations. She attended the 1924 meeting of the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women's Clubs where she was elected assistant secretary and possibly heard the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Alvan T. Fuller, speak favorably of the results of women's suffrage. (Boston Globe, 26 July 1924)

We know very little about Charlotte Bell's private life. There are two references in the censuses of 1920 and 1930 and a 1924 voter list for New York City that might be her. The 1920 census has a Charlotte Bell living in Brooklyn on Duffield Street. Bell was living in Brooklyn in 1924 according to the Boston Globe of 26 July 1924. She also was sometimes described as living on Governor's Island (New York Age, 15 July 1915). Duffield Street is not that far from Governor's Island. The 1930 census also has a Charlotte Bell living on Duffield Street as does the Voter List from 1924. The two censuses have her born in 1875 in South Carolina, but there is no information about her death. Listed as married in the 1920 census, Bell is described as the head of the household which includes two sons, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, and several boarders. In the 1930 census she is a widow, has a widowed daughter-in-law living with her, and has a number of men and women boarding with her. This is all speculation based on where she is described as living from the newspaper accounts about black women's organizations.


“Afro American Notes,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 17 August 2012, p. 6

“Colored Women Convene,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 July 1909, p. 5.

“Federation of Colored Women Names Officers,” Buffalo Courier, 6 July 1913, p. 46.

“Female Smokers Are Criticized,” New York Age, 10 July 1913, p. 1.

“Fuller Says Women Are Clear Thinkers,” Boston Globe, 26 July 1924, p. 9.

“Monument Unveiled to Harriet Tubman,” New York Age, 15 July 1915, p. 1.

“New Federation of Women's Clubs,” Indianapolis Recorder, 24 July 1909, p. 1.

“Says Colored Folk Should Co-Operate,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 2 July 2014, p. 9.

New York City Voter List, 1924,

United States Census, 1920, 1930,

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