Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mrs. Susan Evans, 1875-?

By Cat Bishir, Teacher of AP US and American History
With research assistance by Eric Bodwell, LMC Director
Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, IL

Susan C. Evans was only 24 years old when she helped found the Buffalo, New York chapter of the Phyllis Wheatley Club in 1899 to uplift "fallen" women and protect children. Ms. Evans was part of a large movement of club women. A popular women's club in the last decade of the nineteenth century, Phyllis Wheatley Clubs emerged to help young women participating in the Great Migration. The group in Buffalo, New York was no different. The 147 members met every Sunday afternoon in the Michigan Street Baptist Church to do "splendid work along educational and philanthropic lines" in celebration of their motto, "Lifting as we Climb." In 1905, Evans helped establish a settlement house run by the Buffalo Phyllis Wheatley Club. The settlement house provided support for migrant newcomers to the area as well as children and the elderly. The Club also raised money to help provide a pension for Harriet Tubman, the hero of the Underground Railroad and Civil War veteran.

What set them apart from other women's clubs at the time were the protests they organized to question the lack of African American representation in the Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo in 1901. Women of the club feared that African Americans would be left out, stating in their complaint, "Thus far not a single representative of the race has been properly placed by the management of the Pan-American Exposition, either as director, superintendent of a department, honorary vice-president or even clerk in any of the departments." The women were "indignant" at the Exposition's failing to include African American participants, and brought national attention to the issue. Despite the small black population of Buffalo at the time, their impact was felt nationwide when newspapers picked up the story. Their protests exhibited the power of black women of the era, a power that would be harnessed in their own clubs, but often pushed to the side during agitation for women's suffrage.

In July of 1901, Ms. Evans joined the mayor of Buffalo in presenting the welcoming addresses for the biennial meeting of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). At the conference, she was elected as the group's National Recording Secretary serving for the next two years. Ms. Evans was part of a larger movement in the area that would eventually join in the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The National Association of Colored Women was known for its advocacy for the right to vote. Many black men, despite having been given suffrage with the 15th Amendment, were barred from voting particularly in the South by grandfather clauses, black codes, poll taxes, and intimidation. Black clubwomen, like Susan Evans and Mary Talbert, understood that black rights and opportunities were inextricably bound up with the right to vote. Because of her role as the NACW's Recording Secretary, Susan Evans was instrumental in shaping the group's initial goals and ideals. The NACW provided an umbrella organization to link the many and various clubs black women supported in the early 20th century. The meeting, coinciding with the Pan-American Exposition, convened in the Women's Industrial and Educational Union Building and focused on advancing women's suffrage. The NACW was also loosely affiliated with the predominantly white National Council of Women, whose leadership included many suffrage supporters, such as Frances Willard, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Eastman. Women's suffrage was certainly on the mind as these black clubwomen met at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

Susan C. Evans was born September 24, 1875 in Illinois, though not much more is known about her early life. After growing up near Chicago, she earned a degree in social work before moving to Buffalo, New York. By the age of 25, she was married to Samuel Evans and they were living in Buffalo, New York as boarders in the Anderson household at 198 Glenwood Avenue. Samuel was employed as a cook. The same was true in 1905, as noted in the New York State Census of that year, though the couple had moved to 181 Chester Street, and were blessed by the arrival of Gertrude two years earlier. By 1910, Samuel had acquired a job as a private chef on a railroad, and the couple were living in their own home at 119 Walter Street with their now seven-year-old daughter. In 1910, Ms. Evans was working as a dining room waitress at a business club. Unfortunately our data on Evans disappears after the 1910 census. It is unclear whether she and her family moved, or if she passed away, possibly in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Nonetheless, Susan C. Evans's contributions to advancing African American women's rights were instrumental in the success achieved by the Phyllis Wheatley Club she founded while still a young woman, and the National Association of Colored Women she helped organize.


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