Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Emma (or Emily) (Mrs. John E.) Hughes

By Cat Bishir, Teacher of AP US and American History, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, IL. With editing by Professor Wanda Hendricks, University of South Carolina

Emma (or Emily) J. Hughes actively engaged in politics and reform movements in early-twentieth-century Chicago. While little is known about her early life, she and her husband John Hughes seemed to have arrived in the city at the height of the Great Migration. She joined the Alpha Suffrage Club and was elected Assistant Secretary in 1916. By then women in Illinois had gained partial suffrage rights and black women had played a major role in the election of Oscar DePriest, Chicago's first black alderman. Organized on January 20, 1913 by Ida B. Wells-Barnett and white colleague Bell Squire (a member of the No Vote No Tax League), the Alpha Suffrage Club, according to the first (and probably only) issue of The Alpha Suffrage Record, was established with the intention of helping women learn “how to become good citizens.” The club held meetings every other Wednesday evening, often at 3005 State Street in the same building that housed the Negro Fellowship League's reading room on the South-side of Chicago. In addition to voting, women of the Alpha Suffrage Club were active in protests and agitation surrounding the segregation of public schools in Chicago, anti-lynching campaigns, inter-marriage legislation, and social justice for African-American prisoners.

In 1917 Emma Hughes was elected recording secretary of the Alpha Suffrage Club, joining the slate of new officers that included Dr. Fannie Emanuel, president, Laura Beasley, treasurer and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, chair of the executive committee. Hughes attended a dinner for the Women's Protective Association at the City Club in February 1917. At this time, the Club more often met at the Y.W.C.A. on Rhodes Avenue likely due to the heavy demand for the reading room at the Negro Fellowship League, which hosted hundreds of visitors daily. At the meetings members heard various guests discuss issues facing African-Americans in the city and the organization sponsored the symposium, “What we can do to redeem the second ward?” Unfortunately the records of the Alpha Suffrage Club stop in April 1917, probably due to America's entry into World War I. Black women suffragists most likely greatly reduced their suffrage activity and concentrated their efforts on supporting the war effort.

Emma's activity in the Alpha Suffrage Club was often linked to her husband's work in the Negro Fellowship League (N. F. L.). John Hughes was elected Secretary of the N. F. L. that had been established by Wells-Barnett in 1910. The league offered lodging and recreational facilities, a reading room and an employment bureau for mostly black migrant men. During his time as secretary, he advocated for social justice for Joliet Prison inmate Joseph Campbell. In 1916, he announced the Negro Fellowship League's success in raising over $500 for Campbell's defense during a fiftieth anniversary celebration of the passage of the 13th Amendment. It was the intention of the league to carry Campbell's case all the way to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, likely due to the agitation of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Negro Fellowship League, Campbell's death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

We've had no success finding census, marriage or death records for Emma and John Hughes.


Gale, Neil, Ph. D. “Alpha [Woman's] Suffrage Club of Chicago, Illinois,” The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal , September 24, 2017. Web. Accessed August 8, 2018.

Heinzmann, David. “Joliet prison: Old, obsolete, over,” Chicago Tribune. December 1, 2001.

Hughes, E. “The Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Broad Ax (Chicago, IL), March 17, 1917, p. 4.

“Ida B. Wells-Barnett & the Negro Fellowship League,” Prison Culture. Blog. April 18, 2012. Web. Accessed August 8, 2018.

“The Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Alpha Suffrage Record, vol. 1, No. 1. (Chicago, IL) March 18, 1914.

“The Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Broad Ax, p. 4. (Chicago, IL) April 8, 1916.

“The Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Broad Ax, p. 5. (Chicago, IL) February 17, 1917.

“The Negro Fellowship League,” The Broad Ax, p. 4. (Chicago, IL) April 8, 1916.

“The Negro Fellowship League,” The Broad Ax, p. 2. (Chicago, IL) February 19, 1916.

“The Negro Fellowship League,” The Broad Ax, p. 5. (Chicago, IL) March 18, 1916.

“The Negro Fellowship League's Eighth Annual Celebration,” The Broad Ax, p. 4. (Chicago, IL) January 8, 1916.

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. “The Alpha Suffrage Club,” The Broad Ax, p. 4. (Chicago, IL) January 27, 1917.

“Clubs and Societie,” Chicago Defender, August 23, 1913, 2.

[no title], Chicago Defender, February 3, 1917, 10.

Wanda A. Hendricks, Gender, Race, and Politics in the Midwest: Black Club Women in Illinois (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).

Anne Meis Knupfer, Toward A Tenderer Humanity and a Nobler Womanhood: African American Women's Clubs in Turn-Of-The-Century Chicago (New York: New York University Press, 1996).

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