Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Laura Thomas, 1876-1943


By Erin Hvizdak, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Washington State University

Co-Founder and first President, Colored Women's Republican Club No. 1, East St. Louis, Illinois (1922)

Laura Thomas was born in approximately 1876 to John Goodwin, according to her death certificate; while all censuses list her birthplace as Tennessee, her death certificate lists her place of birth as in Ullin, Illinois. The 1910 census in East St. Louis, Illinois, lists both of her parents as being born in Tennessee. This census lists her husband as William Thomas, born approximately 1873 and with employment in a Freight House, and they are listed as being married for 6 years (m. ca. 1904). One son, L. William, is listed in this census with an age of 0. William is listed as Black, Laura is listed as White, and L. William is listed as Mulatto. The family lived in their owned home at 1415 Boismenue Avenue. In the 1920 Census, the family still resides at 1515 Boismenue Avenue, however, no son is listed (William is working at a railroad). Residing with them are William's father Jessie, and an eight year old nephew, Raymond Robinson. Laura is listed as “Mulatto.” The 1924 East St. Louis City Directory lists Laura as an Assistant Probation Officer; in the 1926 City Directory, she is listed as a Truant Officer. The 1930 census lists them at the same address with only Laura and William in residence. William is listed as a Freight Checker. Laura is still listed as a Truant Officer for the Public Schools, and is now also listed as “Negro.” She is listed as a “Negro” in 1940 as well, and is still a Truant Officer, with the Board of Education listed as her place of employment. She is possibly buried at the Booker T. Washington cemetery in Centerville, IL. Her death certificate states that her death was on January 13, 1943.

Laura Thomas was a co-founder of the Colored Women's Republican Club No. 1 in East St. Louis, Illinois. At the initial meeting on April 26, 1922, she was appointed President, and it was decided to hold meetings on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Other officers included: Ida Thornton, second vice president; Mahase (also spelled elsewhere as Melissa and Mallissie) Bassfield, recording secretary; Pinksen (Pinkie) Reeves, corresponding secretary; Queens Huff, treasurer; and Amanda Cotton, treasurer. This has elsewhere been called the Central Colored Women's Republican Club. In 1924, Reeves, Basfield, and Mary Martin renamed the club the Colored Women's Republican Club of St. Clair County to include women outside of the immediate East St. Louis area. The club was affiliated with the Colored Women's Republican Clubs of Illinois and at one point had nearly 800 members. According to an East St. Louis Daily Journal (ESLDJ) article dated September 18, 1924, talks given at meetings included: “Citizenship,” “The Necessity of Political Parties,” “Pure Government,” and “The Social, Religious, and Political Issues of the Day,” given both by women of the Club and men from the outside including reverends and government officials. This same article lists the headquarters of the organization at 412A East Broadway, but meetings were also held in churches and the homes of members; for example, an ESLDJ article dated January 14, 1926 indicates that the prior Friday meeting was held in the home of the organization's secretary

(Pinkie Reeves, 1930 Bond Avenue), while a January 22, 1928 article lists their meeting at St. Paul's church on 15th and Bond Avenue. This article indicates that Thomas held the title of chairman of the organization. This organization paved the way for other colored women's political organizations in the city. Thomas was appointed treasurer of the Eighth Precinct Republican Colored Women organization, which formed in January 1926. The ESLDJ notes on January 20, 1926 that the organization was “engaged in various activities to promote the candidacies of several candidates for nomination in the next primary election on April 13.”

Sources consulted:

Collections consulted from Family Search (
United States Census, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947

Newspaper articles:
“Colored Women to Organize Clubs,” East St. Louis Daily Journal, Thursday, April 27, 1922
“G.O.P. Colored Women of Eighth Precinct Elect,” East St. Louis Daily Journal, January 20, 1926
“Colored Women of G.O.P. Club Name Campaign Heads,” East St. Louis Daily Journal, January 24, 1926
“County Colored G.O.P. Women to Have Convention,” East St. Louis Daily Journal, January 31, 1926
“Colored Women's Club Will Meet Wednesday,” East St. Louis Daily Journal, January 22, 1928

City Directories:
East St. Louis, Illinois, City Directories, 1924, 1926

Other primary sources:
Find a Grave. Memorial for Laura Thomas in Booker T. Washington cemetery.

Secondary sources consulted:
Freeman, J. (2002). A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics. Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield.
Lumpkins, C. (2008). American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics. Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press.
Materson, L.G. (2013). For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.


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