Catherine Mary Douge Williams

 

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Catherine Mary Douge Williams, 1832-1884

 

By Kori A. Graves, Ph.D., UAlbany, SUNY

C. Mary Williams was an educator and reformer who advocated for the rights of African Americans and women in New York's capital district. Born in Albany, NY in 1832, Williams was the daughter of Michael (1804-1883) and Susan Douge (1805-1897). Because of her parents' work in a number of organizations dedicated to improving African Americans' status, Williams grew up with an awareness of the importance of organized efforts to end multiple forms of inequality. Following their marriage in the spring of 1827, the Douges quickly became a prominent couple in Albany's small African-American community. Michael, a barber by trade, was a member of the committee appointed by the Colored Citizens of Albany to draft a resolution in 1833 expressing the group's opposition to efforts to send African Americans to colonize African nations. He helped found the Union Society of Albany, Troy, and the Vicinity, which lobbied the New York State legislature to approve black male suffrage in 1837. Its members also worked to increase African Americans' access to education and vocational training in the capital district.

Susan Douge was a co-founder and first president of the Albany Female Lundy Society, which began on June 19, 1833. This society, named in honor of Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, assisted fugitive slaves who fled the South seeking freedom in northern states and Canada. The Lundy Society also provided assistance to African-American children so that they could attend the so-called African School (originally the Albany School for Educating Children of Color, 1816), or one of Albany's public schools that began operating in the early 1830s. Although officials in Albany established District School 2 in 1841 to educate the city's African-American children (many of whom had attended the African School), Williams and three of her siblings, William Lloyd Garrison (1835-1841), Julia A., and John A., attended Albany's District 8 school with white classmates for a time in the early 1840s. By the time she was fifteen years old, Williams had completed her education. On May 10, 1847, she became an assistant teacher at the Wilberforce School, the city's public school for children of color. During her tenure at Wilberforce, Williams met and married the school's principal, Henry Hicks. In 1853, one year after their marriage, Hicks died, but Williams continued to teach at the Wilberforce School intermittently until 1860.

The widowed Catherine Hicks traveled to the South after the Civil War to teach freedpeople. By 1870, she had returned to Albany and married her second husband, Andrew Williams, a South Carolina-born carpenter. The couple lived in Albany's 8th Ward for a few years before moving to the city's 11th Ward. In the early 1870s, Williams gave birth to a daughter, Susy (Susie), and resumed teaching. By 1880, the family had moved in with Williams's parents who resided on Lark Street in Albany's Arbor Hill neighborhood. While living on Lark Street, Williams would participate in suffrage activities that brought her local and state-wide recognition. On February 15, 1880, women in New York State won the right to vote in school elections, and less than a month later on March 2, Williams led a group of women of color to register to vote. At that time, she was the vice president of the County Woman's Suffrage Society for the 11th Ward. Williams and her mother cast their first votes in the school elections that took place on April 14, 1880. Likely the high point of Williams's suffrage activism occurred when she delivered an address at the Woman Suffrage State Convention held in

Albany's Geological Hall where delegates called for universal suffrage in New York State in October 1881. Although Williams's death on March 16, 1884 of phthisis, or pulmonary tuberculosis, cut short her suffrage activism, she and her family were pivotal participants in the fight to secure racial equality and women's rights in New York's capital district.

SOURCES:

Albany City Directories, 1853, 1861, and 1869.

1870, 1880 Federal Manuscript Censuses for Albany, N.Y. – accessed through Ancestry.com online.

1875 New York State Census for Albany, N.Y. – accessed through Ancestry.com online.

"Colored Ladies to the Front," The National Citizen and the Ballot Box, April 1880, 4, accessed online through Alexanderstreet.com, Women and Social Movements, Documents, The National Citizen and the Ballot Box, April 1880, [LINK]

Death announcement, William Lloyd Garrison Douge, The Colored American, May 1, 1841 notice of the death of Wm. Lloyd Garrison, accessed online at Accessible Archives, accessible.com.

Death Record for Catherine Mary Williams, Ancestry.com. Menands, New York, Albany Rural Cemetery Burial Cards, 1791-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Death Records for Douge family, Albany Rural Cemetery Internment Cards. Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Douge marriage announcement, Freedom's Journal, April 6, 1827, accessed online at Accessible Archives, accessible.com.

Obituary of Michael Douge, The New York Globe, December 15, 1883, accessed online at Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, gale.com.

"Woman Suffrage," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 12, 1881, 4.

"The Women Who Voted on Tuesday," Albany Morning Express, April 15, 1880, 1, accessed online at fultonhistory.com.

Books:

Gatewood, Willard B. Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 232, 233.

Howell, George Rogers. Bi-Centennial History of Albany: History of the County of Albany, NY from 1609 to 1886, vol. 2 (New York: W.W. Munsell & Co., 1886), 726.

Hughes, Marian I. Refusing Ignorance: The Struggle to Educate Black Children in Albany, New York, 1816-1873 (Albany, NY: Mount Ida Press, 1998), 13-19, 31-39, 50, 61.

 

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