Mary M. Sharperson Young


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Mary (or Mamie) M. Sharperson Young, 1878-1929


By Sachi Inoue, Susan B. Anthony Center, University of Rochester

Mary (or Mamie) Govan, was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina to Paul and Margaret Govan around 1878. She appears to have been the eldest of five girls and attended Claflin University.

Though her first husband is unknown, in 1901 she gave birth to a daughter, Jessie Corinne Sharperson, in Orangeburg. Mrs. Sharperson and her daughter moved to New York City around 1910 and remained there until her death. The exact date is unclear, but when Mrs. Sharperson married her second husband, Percy Young, her last name changed to Sharperson Young.

Mrs. Sharperson Young attended the September 13, 1917 meeting of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party held at the headquarters of the organization at 2285 Seventh avenue. The meeting was held to address concerns raised by members of the Colored Woman's Suffrage Club of New York City, an affiliate of the party, regarding the differential treatment of black women at the statewide suffrage convention in Saratoga. Part of the group that voiced these concerns, Young was called on by the Colored Woman's Suffrage Club president, Mrs. Annie K. Lewis, to state what discrimination she had observed. She refused to accept the invitation to speak in the heated meeting, while at least one woman argued for the formation of an independent suffrage organization. However, the conclusion reached at the meeting was that the status of black women was exactly the same as that of white women.

Young seems to have participated in a myriad of activities outside of the suffrage movement. She was the chairwoman of Emergency Unit No. 51 in New York City and organized a program and giveaway as part of war relief efforts to a hospital with wounded soldiers in 1918. In addition, she was a member of the Salem M. E. Church.

In the 1920s, Mrs. Young embraced Garveyism and the associated Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) during a time when black women began to be displaced as race leaders. Young assumed leadership positions within the organization that were open to women. In addition, she founded the UNIA Women's Elite Royal Court of Ethiopia, which acted as a channel for women to participate in the organization.

Young was active in, and ultimately was the director, of an UNIA offshoot, the Unique Colony Circle, located on 254 W 135th Street. It maintained club rooms and offices for organizations. Various community events, of which Young appeared to be heavily involved in planning, were held at the location.

Her daughter passed away in 1922 and her second husband, Percy Young, died in 1927. Mrs. Young died on the morning of May 4, 1929 and was survived by her mother, four sisters, and other relatives. Her funeral service was held at the Unique Colony Circle, 254 West 135th street, on May 8, 1929 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.


Year: 1880; Census Place: Orange, Orangeburg, South Carolina; Roll: 1237; Page: 276A; Enumeration District: 149

Year: 1910; Census Place: Orangeburg Ward 5, Orangeburg, South Carolina; Roll: T624_1469; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0061; FHL microfilm: 1375482

Gallagher, Julie A. Black women and politics in new york city. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2012)

Suffragists Drew No Line. (1917). Retrieved from Women and Social Movements in the United States,1600-2000 database. [LINK to|bibliographic_details|3258229

Unit no. 51, war relief, active. (1918, Aug 17). The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966) Retrieved from

CLUB chats. (1927, Dec 21). The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1938) Retrieved from

PAY NOTED TRIBUTE TO MRS. M. S. YOUNG. (1929, May 18). The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967) Retrieved from

Funeral rites today for colony circle director. (1929, May 08). The New York Amsterdam News (1922-1938) Retrieved from


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mary Sharperson Young, 1878-1929

By Anna Sargeantson, undergraduate student, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Described as "one of the best known social workers in Harlem," Mary Sharperson Young was born in 1878, likely in South Carolina. She attended Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She moved to New York City in the early 1900s to enter the socio-political scene, working on civil rights issues in the context of black womanhood.

In 1917, Mary Sharperson Young advocated for woman suffrage through the Colored Women's Suffrage Club of New York City, which was affiliated with the New York City Woman Suffrage Party. Young attended the state suffrage convention in Saratoga in August 1917. Afterwards, she claimed she was discriminated against at the convention. Annie Lewis, president of the Colored Women's Suffrage Club of New York, called a meeting to discuss the incident. The majority of women disagreed with Young's interpretation of the events, asserting she had not been treated unlike the white participants. Lewis allegedly had strong ties with white constituents of the suffrage movement, a potential motive for refuting racist behavior, and Young parted ways with the suffrage club. This debate emphasizes distinct challenges of intersectionality faced by black women during this period. The incendiary moment also points to rifts among black women in the suffrage movement regarding perceptions of race. Perhaps situations like these turned Young's interest away from involvement in the mainstream women's suffrage movement, pointing her to civil organizations that addressed black nationalism, like the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

In the 1920s, Young was involved with the UNIA, a pan-African organization established by political leader Marcus Garvey, which postulated conceptions of black nationalism. With this organization, Young established the Women's Elite Royal Court of Ethiopia in New York City, paving the way for black women into the movement alongside other gender-motivated activists like Amy Ashwood and Henrietta Vinton Davis. On February 21, 1923, she was "one of the queens...crowned as queen of Candace in Liberty Hall, New York" at the UNIA meeting.

Throughout Young's time in New York City, her social engagements included several community organizations. During World War I, Mary Sharperson Young served as chair for the emergency unit of the Circle for Negro War Relief. In 1921, she assisted in the Child Welfare Committee's banquet given by Leila Walker Wilson. In the same year, Young helped found the Debutante Club, a social club for young women coming of age in New York City, and she served as an official chaperone. The club, which changed its name to the Gothamettes, sponsored events and affiliated with the NAACP. In 1925, Sharperson Young helped create a social club, the Unique Colony Circle, in which she served as a secretary and resident hostess. In 1926, she and the Unique Colony Circle hosted a banquet for Fred Dove, the ex-mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Additionally, she was involved with city-based alumni events for Claflin University.

Mary Sharperson Young died of an illness on May 4, 1929, in New York City. Funeral services were carried out by the Unique Colony Circle, and she was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Mary Sharperson Young, UNIA, ca. 1923, New York.

CREDIT: "Madame Mary Sharpison [sic] Young." Image accompanies article: "[...] Illuminating Interpretation of Agitation against UNIA," Negro World, February 24, 1923, digital version, Center for Research Libraries.


"Child Welfare Committee." New York Age. March 26, 1921.

"Colored Women Attend Suffragette Meeting." New York Age. September 6, 1917.

"Doings of the Circle." New York Age. April 26, 1919.

Duncan, Natanya. "If Our Men Hesitate Then the Women of the Race Must Come Forward: Henrietta Vinton Davis and the UNIA in New York." New York History 94, no. 1 (Fall 2015): 558-583.

"Ex-Mayor of Freetown, West Africa, Is Honor Guest at New York Banquet." New York Age. December 25, 1926.

Gallagher, Julia A. Black Women and Politics in New York City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

"The Gothamettes." New York Amsterdam News, December 17, 1960. Black Studies Center.

"[...] Illuminating Interpretation of Agitation against UNIA." Negro World. February 24, 1923. Digital version. Center for Research Libraries.

"Mme. Sharperson Young Dies Following Illness of Several Months." New York Age. May 11, 1929.

"Mrs. Sharperson Young Sued by Duncan Bros." New York Age. March 10, 1923.

"Musical and Tea." New York Age. November 05, 1927.

"Unique Colony Circle of America, Inc. Holds First 'At Home' Social." New York Age. August 07, 1926.

"Unit No. 51, War Relief, Active." Chicago Defender. August 17, 1918. Black Studies Center.

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