Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Ruth Logan Roberts, 1892-1968


By Adele Logan Alexander, who taught for many years at George Washington University

Ruth Logan was the second of nine children, born in 1892, in Alabama, to Warren Logan, second-in-command to Tuskegee Institute's Booker T. Washington, and Adella Hunt Logan, a teacher, writer, and suffragist. The Logans were unusually privileged, well-educated and well-connected. In addition, they were very light-skinned African Americans who looked white. With a singular exception, however, they chose to remain within and serve the black community.

Ruth attended primary and elementary school in Tuskegee, then was sent to Ohio's Oberlin College for two years of college preparatory work, followed by a three-year stint at Boston's Sargent College, from which she graduated in 1913. Sargent prepared young (mostly) women in physical and sports education, dietary training, and the like. After her graduation, she returned to teach physical education at Tuskegee Institute.

But tragedy soon struck the Logan family. Ruth's mother, who had been in unstable physical and mental health for several years and was intermittently hospitalized, committed suicide at the school in 1915. Ruth unfortunately witnessed her mother's death. She then took over much of the care of her younger brother and sisters.

In 1917, in Tuskegee Institute's chapel, she married Eugene Percy Roberts, a widowed doctor – New York City's second black licensed physician who'd started his practice in 1894 – considerably older than she, who had been a friend of Booker T. Washington and supporter of the Institute for many years. Ruth and her husband moved into a large, elegant town house in Harlem, widely known simply as "130" – the full address was 130 West 130th Street.

In conjunction with her mother, Ruth Logan organized suffrage events at Tuskegee Institute in 1913, and after her marriage became active in Republican party affairs in New York. Once settled in New York City, Ruth Logan Roberts housed and cared for her siblings, and also soon established her home as one of the Harlem Renaissance's leading social, artistic, and political salons. She volunteered on behalf of improved care for tuberculosis (in 1924 her older brother died from that disease), worked with a home for unwed mothers, supported local arts initiatives, and served on several NAACP and YWCA boards. Like most African Americans who were born before the turn of the century, she stayed loyal to the "party of Lincoln."

She especially toiled on behalf of gaining opportunities for African American graduate nurses in the face of blatant racial and gender discrimination. During World War II, she used her persuasive skills and political connections to work on their behalf, by lobbying Ohio's Rep. Frances Bolton and even first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to generate and ultimately pass legislation on behalf of those professional caregivers. For that work, in 1942, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) bestowed its highest award on Ruth Logan Roberts.

Because her home was so capacious – she had a cook, maid, and chauffeur who saw to her and her husband's needs – Ruth Logan Roberts welcomed visitors who were hoping to avoid discriminatory treatment (as well as hotel expenses) in New York City. Those people from near and far streamed through her abode. Safe shelter, good food, interesting people and conversation typified the ambience in Ruth's home.

Ruth Logan Roberts and her husband never had children (perhaps she believed that her mother's fatal depression had been exacerbated by the physical, emotional and economic demands of nine children) but three younger siblings intermittently lived at her home. Her story is familiar to me, because I was the only member of the next generation: the child of her

youngest brother, Dr. Arthur Courtney Logan, who had grown up in her home. In the 1940s and early 1950s, much of my time passed at Ruth Logan's home, sitting and eating at her table and enjoying the lively debates. Some of her jewelry, and the Mary Mahoney medal bestowed on her by the NACGN, still sit in my jewelry box.

Dr. Eugene Percy Roberts died in 1952, and Ruth's health began to deteriorate – she'd always been a drinker and a heavy smoker – and in 1960, the family sold "130." Her younger siblings finally had to relocate her to a nursing home where she died in October 1968.


Most of the information in this piece comes from personal experience and family stories. In addition, more about Ruth Logan Roberts can be found in numerous reports in New York's black press which are now available online. Also see the autobiography, No Time for Prejudice, MacMillan, 1961, by Mabel Staupers, director of the NACGN, and especially Darlene Clark Hine's Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950, Indiana University Press, 1989. My latest book, Princess of the Hither Isles: A Black Suffragist's Story from the Jim Crow South, Yale University Press, 2019, thoroughly details Ruth Logan Roberts's early years.


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