Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Melba Stafford, 1879-1967

By Erika Jurvetson, student at Sacred Heart Preparatory High School, Atherton, California

First Secretary of Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters

Melba Stafford was born in 1879 in Texas. Stafford lived with her husband, Anderson E Stafford in Oakland, California. She worked as a dressmaker and advertised her sewing services in the 1916 Colored Directory of the Leading Cities of Northern California.

Stafford was involved in numerous clubs--she was a charter member of the Fannie J. Coppin Club and the California Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, both located in the city of Oakland. The California Federation of Colored Women's Clubs was founded in 1906 and also located in Oakland. The club directed their efforts to serving the needs of California's African American women and children. The Fannie J. Coppin Club was organized by a group of "prominent local women" in 1899. It was the first African American women's club in Oakland, California. It was named to honor Fannie Jackson Coppin (1837-1913) who overcame slavery and became a renowned educator and an advocate for African American civil rights. The club was known to be a pioneering club that inspired the African American women's club movement in California, with the motto "Not failure, but low aim is the crime."

Melba Stafford served on the Alameda County Central Committee of the Republican Party, which was an elected body of Republicans in Alameda County. She was also the first State Chairman of the Art Department of the California Federation of Colored Women's Clubs and a charter member of the Oakland chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. In addition to fostering local engagement with African American women, Stafford also promoted woman suffrage through her active involvement in the Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters, of which she was the first secretary. She was registered to vote as a member of the Progressive Party from 1914 to 1944.

In 1917, Stafford organized a local Unit of the Red Cross called the "Ada Young Auxiliary of the American Red Cross." This Unit in Oakland raised a total of $6000. $4,000 of what they raised went to the Linden branch of the Y.W.C.A. In 1920, Stafford, along with Hettie B. Tilghman, Willa Henry and Delilah Beasley, organized the Linden Center Y.W.C.A in Oakland, California. The purpose of the Linden Branch was to "build a fellowship of women and girls" committed to living out Christian ideals. This Y.W.C.A was segregated until the organization integrated nationally in 1944. In 1925 she served as an officer for the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. There is evidence that she was active with this organization as late as 1934.

She remained politically active in her later years and was a registered Republican in the 1940s. Stafford was listed as a shut-in in 1966 in the California State Association of Colored Women's Clubs Northern District report. She passed away in 1967. Her name was put into the congressional record by Congresswoman Barbara Lee in 2003.


1) "Activities Among Negroes" Oakland Tribune, May 23, 1926

2) "Activities Among Negroes" Oakland Tribune March 30, 1930

3) "Activities Among Negroes" Oakland Tribune, Volume 120, Number 105, April 15, 1934

4) California, Death Index, 1940-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

5) California Voting Record for Melba Stafford, Alameda County 1944

6) Colored Directory of the Leading Cities of Northern California. Published by Charles F. Gilghman, Jr.

7) "Colored Voters Active" Oakland Tribune, June 11, 1914

8) "Colored YWCA Prepares Opening" Oakland Tribune, June 30, 1920

9) "Constitution for Young Women's Christian Association of Oakland, California." Oakland Public Library, January 27, 197

10) Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay. Lifting as They Climb. 1933

11) de Graaf, Lawrence. Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California, University of Washington Press, 2001.

12) "Index of Affidavits of Registration." California, Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 for Melba G. Stafford.

13) "Leading Clubs and Citizen Endorse Auditorium Bonds." Oakland Tribune, June 11, 1914

14) "Melba B Stafford in the California, Death index, 1940-1997."

15) "Oakland Precinct No. 52." California, Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 for Melba G. Stafford.

16) "President Will Keep Taut Rein on Balloting." Oakland Tribune, June 30, 1920

17) Congressional Record, February 27, 2003

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