Beatrice Hulon Morrow Cannady


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Beatrice Hulon Morrow Cannady, 1889-1974

By Kimberley Mangun, Associate Professor
The University of Utah

Beatrice Hulon Morrow was born in Littig, Texas, on January 9, 1889, one of twelve surviving children of Mary Francis Carter and George Cannady, a farmer. Little is known about her childhood, but she attended schools in Littig, Houston, and New Orleans before reportedly graduating in 1908 from Wiley University in Marshall, Texas. Morrow taught briefly at Gilbert Academy and Agricultural College, a school for Black children in Baldwin, Louisiana, and then at Logan County High School in Guthrie, Oklahoma, a land-rush city established the year she was born.

At some point Morrow began corresponding with Edward Daniel Cannady, the “hat-check man” at the luxurious Portland Hotel in Oregon and a co-founder of The Advocate, a newspaper for Black Oregonians established in September 1903. Published biographical details are scant and contradictory. According to a brief sketch in Who's Who of the Colored Race, Edward was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, on November 27, 1877, to Caroline Wilkins and George Cannady. He attended schools there and in St. Louis. Another article notes that he worked at the Ryan Hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota, and also for The Appeal: A National Afro-American Newspaper. The St. Paul weekly was edited and published by J. Q. Adams and his brother Cyrus; Edward reportedly assisted with the newspaper. If so, he may have interacted with McCants Stewart, the business manager of two Black newspapers in St. Paul. Stewart eventually moved to Portland, where he worked as an attorney and helped launch The Advocate.

It is unclear when Edward Cannady moved to the Pacific Northwest, but by 1902, he was working at the Portland Hotel and establishing his reputation as a man with “a great memory for heads” who had returned hats to hotel guests including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.

Cannady and Morrow continued their long-distance relationship until sometime early in 1912. Finally, as she told a reporter for TheNew York Amsterdam News, she decided to purchase a train ticket to visit the West and meet Edward. The couple wed on June 27, 1912. The account of their relationship prompted the Amsterdam's reporter to observe, “There is romantic glamour that adorns this union.” Beatrice Morrow Cannady cashed in her return train ticket and began her new life in Portland, a city with just 1,000 Black residents.

She joined The Advocate as associate editor and manager and apparently assumed most of the responsibility for running the weekly newspaper (she became publisher in 1930 when the couple divorced). Edward praised her a decade later when he wrote in the newspaper: “Right here we wish to state [that] when we were almost tempted to give up the struggle and let the paper die as a number of others have done, we led to the altar a woman whose equal is hard to find in any race; who, although inexperienced in newspaper work at the time, was possessed of a splendid education and unbreakable courage ... and with her wonderful assistance The Advocate lives on.”

The Cannadys were among the founders of the Portland Branch of the NAACP in January 1914. During Beatrice's fourteen-year association with the organization, she promoted local and national accomplishments, helped to establish branches in other cities, spoke to white groups about the history and work of the NAACP, wrote in The Advocate about the speaking tours of Field Secretary William Pickens and other NAACP officials who lectured in Portland, and traveled to Los Angeles in June 1928 to give a speech “as a representative woman of the race” at the organization's 19th annual conference. Her talk, “Negro Womanhood as a Power in the Development of the Race and the Nation,” addressed sexism, racism, and patriarchy, discrimination that had traditionally kept Black women at society's margins. “That she may serve well, the Negro woman must first learn to believe in herself and her race—ridding herself always of any false notions of racial or self-inferiority. We must admit that this is often hard to do, hampered as she is by her sex in what we sometimes term a man's world and by her race in a white man's world. But it can be done,” she said. “The time demands real women.” Cannady called on her listeners at Second Baptist Church to get more involved in the NAACP. “This is a big program in which the Negro womanhood of America will find abundant opportunity for service,” she said.

Cannady also believed that Black women could play a critical role in the education of white people. “Paradoxical as it may seem,” she said, “the Negro women of America must become the teachers of the white race.” Beginning in 1922, she held regular interracial and interreligious teas as a way to promote racial uplift and race relations and fight segregation and social discrimination. She realized that “even the bitterest of enemies” might attend an entertaining or informative program at a public place. But meaningful conversation could only occur in an intimate space, such as her living room. Cannady envisioned her large home in northeast Portland as a place where people could gain a “‘close-up' view of one another.” As many as 200 guests at any one event were expected to become acquainted with people they did not already know. Such mingling lifted the “veil of mystery surrounding each race ... as nothing else has done,” she observed.

Descriptions of the teas, including the topics and featured speakers and performers, were published in The Advocate. In July 1924, for example, Cannady hosted a gathering for Nellie Mapps, founder of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (WSFCWC), and Alice Park, a suffragette who lived in California. New Yorker Addie W. Hunton was the guest of honor in September 1926, when she visited Portland as part of a speaking tour to discuss a recent trip to Haiti under the auspices of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Hunton also was a field secretary for the NAACP, president of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs, and author of a detailed book about her thirteen-month stint with the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I. Cannady herself was a guest speaker at interracial teas hosted by others. In August 1927, she spoke with a large group of women at Nettie J. Asberry's home in Tacoma, Washington; Asberry was an activist and president of WSFCWC (later renamed Washington State Association of Colored Women's Clubs).

Cannady interacted, too, with politicians and gave their visits extensive coverage in The Advocate. “Many speakers have come to Portland, made their impressions and gone on their journey,” she wrote in May 1923. But none had “made a deeper and more lasting impression for good upon the minds and hearts of the people than” Missouri Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer, author of a 1922 bill making lynching a federal crime. Members of the House of Representatives passed it early that year, but by December The New York Times wrote that the bill was dead. Five months later, Dyer was in Portland—reportedly with The Advocate's help—where he gave multiple addresses and attended a meeting of the Portland NAACP Branch. Cannady said she “presided” over his talk at Lincoln High School on May 13, when he said “the ballot and its proper, intelligent exercise” was essential for “blotting out present-day mistreatment.” She reported that he “took a fling” at the senators representing Oregon and urged his listeners to remember their stand on the anti-lynching bill when they ran for re-election.

In September 1929, Illinois Congressman Oscar De Priest also spoke at Lincoln High School. Cannady wrote a long article about his 90-minute talk to a Black crowd estimated to be in the hundreds about race prejudice and discrimination. One point that resonated with her was his criticism of the federal government and its exorbitant spending to enforce the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages. De Priest told the packed auditorium, “Isn't it right to spend a few millions to enforce the Fourteenth? One says a man shall not drink and the other says he shall vote. I would rather spend a million to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment than 14 to enforce the Eighteenth!” Cannady had written an editorial using a similar argument in April 1929. She censured President Herbert Hoover for spending “millions of dollars for the suppression of the liquor traffic, but hardly a cent to enforce the law granting civil and political rights to 15,000,000 of her people.” Cannady called De Priest “a conservative, plain speaking, well-informed gentleman” who demanded the “rights guaranteed him under the Constitution of the United States.” The congressman was so pleased with her coverage of his address that he requested six more copies of The Advocate be sent to his Washington, D.C., office.

De Priest returned to Portland on October 1, 1932, to stump for President Herbert Hoover, who was running against challenger Franklin D. Roosevelt. De Priest had his work cut out for him: Cannady wrote that “Negroes all over the country [were] dissatisfied with the present administration” and its handling of the worsening Depression. Roosevelt himself had spoken in Portland in September and “won many over to his ranks.” Cannady urged readers to think carefully about the candidates before voting on November 8. “The political party that should command the support of the colored voters is the party that is willing to meet the Negro question squarely, boldly and courageously” and advocate “sane treatment of our problems—equal political, economic and social rights.” After Roosevelt's victory Cannady wrote, “The American people have shown by their vote that they want a new deal in politics,” referring to FDR's ambitious plan to stimulate the economy and “provide relief, recovery, and reform.”

The Depression had impacted employment opportunities for Black Portlanders and discrimination was increasing at restaurants and theaters. In May 1930 she began advising Advocate readers to boycott white-owned businesses that would not employ Black workers. And in a January 1932 editorial she wrote, “It seems that away out here in Oregon—God's country—there should not be any such thing as race antipathy. But there is, and lots of it. Nearly every colored person who has sought to buy a home has had to fight in the courts and out of them in order to occupy them; there are many public places of accommodation, resort and amusement which draw color lines in different ways. ... As citizens, colored people deserve all the rights and privileges and the protect as any other citizen has.”

By 1932, Cannady had devoted twenty years to improving interracial relations in Portland through efforts that included hosting the interracial teas, giving hundreds of lectures to high school and college students, delivering talks about Black history and literature on the new medium of radio, and waging a high-profile campaign against showings of the racist film The Birth of a Nation. Cannady decided on a new plan, one that placed her among the generation of leaders who felt political activism was the only successful path to equality. In April 1932, she announced her candidacy for state representative for the fifth district of Multnomah County, which included the City of Portland. She pledged to “support all honest, sane legislation” that would “improve the economic and social welfare of” Oregonians. She may have had in mind the new civil rights bill that the Portland NAACP Branch planned to introduce when the State Legislature convened on January 9, 1933, Cannady's 44th birthday.

Cannady urged Advocate readers to turn out for the election. “Every Citizen Vote In Primaries FRIDAY MAY 20, 1932,” commanded one four-column headline. An editorial reminded “all good citizens” that they needed to re-register if they had moved recently; this would allow them “to do their duty on May 20th.” Responsibility and obligation were the topics of another editorial published shortly before the primary. “Times are too critical now for people to be the least negligent in their civic duties,” she warned. Voters ought to “show some concern for whoever aspires to govern” and the “best way to do that,” according to Cannady, was to vote on election day. She also continued to remind readers to cast their ballot for her, the Republican candidate for state representative from the fifth district.

On the eve of the primary she wrote in The Advocate, “If my work in the interest of mankind for the past 18 years or more is not sufficient to inform you as to my qualifications and as to my sincerity, nothing I can say now will convince you.” Ultimately, 7,668 voters did feel she was the right person for the demanding job. The final count placed her 42nd out of 49 candidates, a notable result considering that just 1,243 Negroes over 21 years of age lived in Portland as of 1930.

Cannady wrote little about the defeat. A front-page article thanked her “friends and well wishers” for their “exhibition of faith in [her] ability and worth as a public servant.” She also expressed pleasure that she had been “treated with the utmost courtesy and respect by [her] fellow campaigners as well as the voters.” Cannady pledged to run again, but she moved to Southern California in about 1938 and died there on August 19, 1974.


Kimberley Mangun, A Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936 (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2010)

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